By Trevor Thompson
Director of Pastoral Ministries
My wife, two kids, and I just returned from our annual pilgrimage to northern California. I love this summer season of travel, relaxation, and finding time to connect with loved ones. Our special time included lots of swimming, a date night with my wife (our 9th anniversary!), lazy morning coffees, Bocce ball, World Cup soccer, old home videos, and ample laughter and storytelling. My favorite thing about these family gatherings, however, is the daily ritual of our family meals shared at a big, open cherry-wood table. These meals were the staple of my childhood, and they remain what I like best about going home.
My mother is, and always has been, primarily responsible for this meal ritual. She’s an impeccable cross between Julia Child and Martha (of today’s Gospel). Cultivated over years of culinary adventures through lineage (French and Italian genes), travel (we lived in both Europe and Asia several times near Army bases), marriage (my step-father is Filipino), and tasting (we ate fresh, local, and organic before there was a Whole Foods), my mother’s culinary deftness has satiated every hungry soul that came to our family table. She was committed to gathering her family at this table daily, but this table was also an open table, welcome to every soul who wished to come. We regularly had guests, especially during the holiday when there were many soldiers (single or without their families) needing a place to taste the comforts of a home. So too, my mother frequently cooked and delivered warm meals to those who were homebound, sick, grieving, widowed, and newly-made parents. It is hard for me to remember a day throughout my childhood where we did not have a meal around that table. Her kitchen and her table were her ways of giving, touching, healing, and loving.
Not only have all my mother’s children’s taste buds become spoiled or turned into finicky gourmands, mine included, but all of them have gone on to their own culinary adventures. My sister, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is a pastry-chef specializing in chocolates, my brother is an organic farmer and an artist who paints canvases of vegetables, and after a three-year stint as a farmer at community-supported agriculture project, I directed a community kitchen that served free, healthy, and yummy food and hospitality before moving to North Carolina in February. We all can pull our weight in the kitchen, and we all count our greatest temptations (and expenditures) to be the ones we consume and excrete.
I’m also growing deeper in my understanding of the myriad of ways this mealtime ritual has shaped our worldview, our habits, and our relationship with all things sensual and bodily. Sure, we went to Mass every Sunday and participated in religious education ( my mother even worked for the church), but as I reflect on it, it is this mealtime practice at home around our table that made the liturgy full of implications that mattered in my life and in the world. My sense of hospitality, service, vulnerability, forgiveness, respect, and joy are all rooted in this daily practice of kitchen, food, and table. Around that cherry-wood table I learned how to be human, how to be church, and how to know the mystery that is God.
I’m fully conscious that home-cooked meals and gatherings around dinner tables are more and more marginal in today’s American culture. My experience was the gift of the sacrifices of a stay-at-home mom and her culinary twists of fate. Nevertheless, today’s first reading of the story of Abraham, the three visitors, and the portending meal, coupled with my family gathering this past month in California, stirs my imagination and helps me understand better why Elizabeth and I continue to choose to take our two children to church and gather faithfully around a table of home-cooked food. Although they will grow to feed themselves, we pray that our kitchen, food, and table might similarly shape our children’s culinary adventures and spiritual lives. Bon appétit.