I've been thinking a lot about dinner parties. After Halloween passes, pumpkins tossed into fields and everyone's household has too much candy, thoughts turn to ... more eating. But the good kind. The sitting around the table on a chilly night, candles burning down, stains on the tablecloth, bellies too full kind. Thanksgiving, of course.
For certain Thanksgiving is about the meal, but in reality Thanksgiving and every other time we sit down at the table to eat with friends and family, is about the talking. It's about what we do best as people: tell stories, share laughs, reminisce, connect the invisible threads of me to you. Before we push back from the table and head to the couch or out the door, we connect. And it fortifies us far more than any food we could ever put in our bodies.
The dinner table is our anchor, us humans, in a world in which we are becoming increasingly unmoored, by distance, by work and school choices that take us far away from one another, by artificial means of communication that take us ever further away, from each other.
Once a month, as a congregation we gather around the table, sometimes literally — we stand around the table at the front of the church; other times we sit. Either way, the intention is the same: to remind ourselves that we are members of a community, that we are connected, not only by the rivers and roads and fields that run through our town, but by the blood that runs through our veins and the hearts beating in our chests. That ultimately we are meant to be bonded in this life. So we eat a little bread and drink a little juice and we imagine Jesus doing that with his buddies a long time ago, even though he knew a couple of them were kind of jerks who wouldn't be there for him in his time of need. He didn't care, he knew they made good eating and drinking companions and they were welcome at his table in spite of, or maybe because of, their flaws.
I'll bet he didn't even expect them to do the dishes when they were done. He was so nice, that Jesus.
I've thought about that dinner party question many times: who would you invite if you could have anyone at your dinner table?
In reality, of course, there are several dream team dinner parties, but this would get me started:
Abe Lincoln; I'd love to hear the sound of his voice. Also, I want to see what he looks like when he smiles.
Georgia O'Keefe. Cliché, maybe, but I really want to hold her hands in mine.
Sam Shepard, because I loved all of his work and also because he died young-ish, in Midway, Kentucky, one of my favorite places on this earth. I want to ask him if he has any regrets, now that he's dead.
Jerry Garcia. I need to hear directly from him ... what happened? And I don't mean to his finger, either. I also want to thank him because his music was the glue that bonded many of my friends and me when we were young, around happy and memorable experiences.
Hilma of Klint. Her art is astonishing to me, plus there should be at least one mystic at every great dinner party.
Katrina Trask. I need to ask permission to write her life story and I want to know what was really going on with George Foster Peabody all those years.
Bill Murray. Obviously for the laughs, but also because I've had a crush on him since I saw him in Meatballs in 1979. I would ask him to say grace.
Ashley Merriman. There should be a foodie. And someone with lots of tattoos.
In about ten days we will head out to California, pick up Nate and Sam along the way and deposit ourselves in a house in the Tahoe National Forest. We'll ski some, talk some, hike some. Probably play board games, if there are any in the house. And we'll cook. Sam's friends will come up from Incline, the ones not going home for Thanksgiving. I don't know if there will be candles or wine; maybe not. There will be the standard: too much turkey, fatty gravy, all the sides, nothing fancy. Truth be told, I could sit around a dinner table and eat bowls of cereal with those people and be happy. I can't wait to hear their stories, to see their faces, to be inside their hugs, and then to let them all go, back into the world, fortified by love. Amen.