Practicing liturgies around the table
We use the word home with great regularity, but we rarely think about what we mean by it. When we do pause to reflect, we often think of a physical house, or recall memories of a childhood home and loved ones. Both of these physical and emotional pictures of the home meet in one feature common to all homes—the kitchen table.
The kitchen table provides a physical locus for the liturgy of home life. Meal times infuse life with rhythm and order rooted in a place. Such liturgies serve a pedagogical function, as James K.A. Smith has argued in his Cultural Liturgies project. Gathering around the table daily teaches us to value our home community and to fight against the individualistic tendencies of modern American culture. Instead of structuring our days entirely around our personal needs and desires, we take the time to actively relate with others as we participate in the communal liturgy of sharing a meal around the table. In a very real way, through these table-centered liturgies, the kitchen table provides a space for the home community to develop an identity. This function of the kitchen table ultimately helps to give the home its distinctive character.
For example, this past fall, I had the opportunity to spend several months living in a lodge nestled in the mountains of Colorado with 35 other people. Although it was hardly a typical home, we all called it home while we were there. What made it a home was the dining room at the center of the lodge. Around the tables in the dining room, we acted out many of the key liturgies that constituted our life together. We gathered together for three daily meals, which themselves had a liturgy, beginning with singing the Doxology together and ending with a time of prayer. We ate the same food, shared stories and laughs, posed deep questions, and wrestled to find answers. Many of the inside jokes that contributed to the group’s communal identity developed over meals. In essence, community happened around those dining room tables, and as a result, the lodge developed a homely quality.
This all goes to show that even in unorthodox settings, the tables around which we dine can make a building into a home. As we participate in the liturgies of the table, we are drawn together with the other members in the home both physically, as we partake of the same food, and emotionally, as we bond through conversation and laughter. As our lives are thus woven together around the table, community forms, and a building becomes a home.
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