A Seat at the Table

 A Seat at the Table

Mark Bair

            I close my eyes and a view opens from a seat at a dining room table. Through a large bay window, past the wonderfully wide dogwood tree and its birds, I gaze across the valley. I see a commanding ridge that overlooks a lake.  For a moment I soar over the house like a hawk and see how it is brilliantly inserted into the slope of a steep ridge, the anchor of a wooded acreage. The dining room thrusts out from the rest of the house in an unconventional but pleasing angle. The lake reflects the evening sun and throws ribbons of light up the slope, through the dogwood onto the watchful gable of the dining room, and through the glass onto the face of a beautiful young woman. Only thirty-two, she and her husband have four children—four to thirteen and have recently acquired this land and sprawling home on the slope.  Light radiates from her face to her family.

            Before me on the round table is a spread of enticing and aromatic food—grilled sirloin steaks, with their sweet tomato smell from the marinade of Kraft Miracle French. There is steaming corn on the cob, warm bread, golden brown cheese-laced au gratin potatoes, and wedges of greens with Good Seasons Italian. My nose approves of the culinary harmony. It is a feast like Isaiah’s, minus only the vintage wine. The food is moving. It is being jerked to my right and my left on a wooden turntable called a Lazy Susan. As with an airport baggage carousel, I grab what I can while it’s moving. The beautiful woman and her husband wait patiently, giving the kids dibs on the best cuts. A cacophony of youthful chatter vibrates into my ears, punctuated by laughter. They compete for attention, and I join them.

            It is 1973.   I am thirteen.  I am back at our home in western Pennsylvania, shortly after we moved from California. The beautiful woman is my mother. The adoring husband is my father. The chatty kids are my brothers and sister. With Mom’s glory in the foreground, I look out that special window across the valley. The view is only through her, making the memory of the landscape inseparable from the memory of her smile and her gifts. My mother labored to make the feast, and bring us joy. Cooking for six is no small thing! Not only did she put a feast together every night, she labored to make that dining room and table a pleasing gathering place. She laughed and listened, and when needed, reigned in foolishness.

            Though I experienced that table feast nearly two thousand more times before I headed off to college, I had no idea that it was anything unusual or precious.  I rarely said, “Thanks for dinner Mom.” At the time, I barley even noticed what I just described. Somehow the sights and sounds and smells entered me and were stored for later.  They sold the home in 1988, so I can only visit this way.

            When my family gathered around that table in our on that Pennsylvania mountain sanctuary, we were enacting Isaiah’s shalom feast, that great meal on the mountain that will descend to a renewed earth like an adorned bride. On that slope, with radiant light shining from the Face no longer hidden, families from so many regions will sit at a banquet of rich food and vintage wine. They will cry no more, as the revealed Face will swallow the dreadful curtain that hovers menacingly and robs the breath of his precious image-bearers.

            Thanks for dinner Mom! And thanks for all that our meals imparted in a dwelling of love: support, laughter, joy, connection, correction, and confidence to go out and come back.  Now I see why Jesus was always doing dinner. I think he would love that Lazy Susan turntable and surprise us by jerking it to the left, then to the right with a grin.