Sunday, July 5, 2009

Getting to the Table Again

Someone recently asked about the religious retreats that I and other people make and what they're about. He got me thinking.

Silent retreats are about the problems that are hard for us to talk about.

They’re about the situations in our lives where we are no longer content to make do. Sometimes they’re about admitting that we are not getting what we need. Sometimes they’re about admitting that we’re not getting the experiences that we can talk about with pleasure and satisfaction. They’re about the judgment that sometimes feels waiting for us if we confess to that failure.

So, guess what most retreats do for the people who make them? They get people into a dining room three times a day. They get people to the table.

Ignatius Loyola knew that people on retreat don’t stop being on retreat during meals. They might think they stop doing the serious work of a retreat for the fifteen minutes or half-hour that they are sitting in the dining room. Ignatius knew, though, that meals might be a time when our emotional guard is down, our thinking apparatus less programmed and more creative, our willingness to sink into ourselves and the routines of our heart more likely.

We may have fewer expectations of ourselves, fewer explicit expectations for our lives in a dining room, and that is the key to its usefulness. The ease we might feel in being ourselves with a plate of food in front of us can be the medium by which we uncover a question we have about what our lives can be.

So right now, in the midst of reading a post on a blog, a little exercise about our eating might be illuminating.

Let’s start by thinking of the last meal we had before going online and reading this post – was it with the people we most wanted to eat with? Was it at a time of our choosing? Was it in a place of our choosing? Was the meal the food we most wanted?

Ready for more?

How many of us regularly eat with the people we most want to eat with?

How many of us regularly eat the foods we most like?

How many of us regularly eat at times of our choosing and in settings of our choosing?

How many of us regularly take the time we want to spend on a meal? Are we ever rushed?

On the other hand, are we ever obliged to stay at a table longer than we want? With people we would not have chosen as our ideal table companions?

And finally: How many of us would do anything to have another meal with a particular person? How many of us would do anything to have another chance to participate in a particular meal from an earlier time in our life?

One or more of these questions may leave your heart a bit shaky.

They do mine.


Ur-spo said...

that was lovely
paradoxically we will see a return or desire for the things our forebears had plenty - time, quiet and space.

Kimberly said...

Very much enjoyed this one... So many memories from two particular years that have long had a kitchen as one of their symbols in my bank of images. They are years marked by deep friendship and all of us helping prepare many meals together in conversation, salting them with commentary, toasting them with laughter and familiar teasing, blessing them with love.

Also, one of my favorite aspects of a retreat house I have stayed at a number of times in CA is that you make your own meals. For me, it makes all the more immediate the continuity of mood/being. The textures, smells, tastes, created environment, all contribute.

John said...

How telling that reflecting on the experience at table brings such joy to the surface!