When I attended Saint John's seminary dinner began and ended with grace. The Rector (College President) would announce grace after dinner by striking his water goblet with a spoon. We were not excused from the table until grace after dinner. A classmate and good friend of mine David chafed at this requirement. I've got things to do! He'd protest angrily.
David represents a very contemporary American attitude about meals. You are there to eat and move on. After all, we invented the drive-thru, microwave ovens, and T.V. “dinners.” The last of those inventions actually replaced human conversation with a passive observance of an electronic gizmo throughout the meal.
That was precisely the rationale for grace after dinner. We were required to stay and have conversation. To share our thoughts on the latest book we’d read (now I’m really dating myself), the news of the day, travel. Meals historically are far more than merely about “eating” they are about interpersonal communion. It is not a mere coincidence that major western religions center their worship on meals (the Mass, Communion Services, Seders, etc).
In a few weeks families across America will sit down to share Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is far more than the consumption of turkey and all the fixings. Eating a Thanksgiving dinner alone would be pointless and empty. Thanksgiving is about all the loved ones at that table with whom we share, not just a meal but also our lives.
Many LGBTQ people will sit down at tables across America not with their parents, siblings and relatives but with friends. There is actually a saying I’ve heard “friends are the new family.” This is a bittersweet sentiment. The Book of Sirach 6: 5-15 contains an insightful meditation on the various types of friends one encounters in life and their value. Friendship is a form of love and as Sirach says, a treasure. Still, there is void, a painful absence at holiday meals for LGBTQ people and their families.
Religious leaders who value controlling people more than loving them have caused these hurtful divisions. They have instructed members of their communities that acceptance and love “really” mean exclusion and rejection. The poison fruit of these men will be found at countless family gatherings.
I have seen many people in the ICU pick up the phone and have a conversation with a family member they have avoided for decades. Many have said to me, I wish I’d had that conversation years ago. Don’t wait for the ICU, love is the heart of humanity, spirituality and meaning, everything else is counterfeit spirituality and a death-dealing lie.