NASA, Nigella and the power of the table

I’ve recently spoken and written on loneliness and the idea of church as family. In summary, I’ve argued that we have a deep need for human connection, and when we lack it, we experience loneliness like a deep aching hunger.

One of the central symbols of the church is a table around which we gather, to celebrate a meal called communion. It’s a meal that tells a story. Bread and wine represent the body and blood of Jesus, which are the very things that unite those who gather around that table. Every time we eat that meal, we celebrate that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are restored into relationship with our Father, and we are placed into familial relationship with one another. We are brothers and sisters, within the family of God. The message of the church to a lonely world should be: ‘Come and feast! There is enough bread and wine to go round, and there is space for you at this table!

All of that reminds me of a passage from the introduction to Nigella Lawson’s cookbook At My Table. (And yes, I do read cookbooks like they’re normal books!) It needs little comment really. Read it, reflect on it, and consider whether this isn’t a great picture for how we should live as the church.

‘When I moved into my first home, before I did anything else, I bought a table, a table not just to eat on, but to live around.

I read recently that when NASA originally designed their spaceships, they didn’t put in a table: it wasn’t thought necessary, and it was hard to see how it would work; without gravity, the food would just float off it. But, as Mary Roach wrote in Packing for Mars, the astronauts did mind, and asked for one to be put in, even if it means strapping on a tray, with food velcroed to it. In the alienating isolation of space, they wanted, they said, “to sit around a table at the end of the day and eat like humans”.

A table is more than a piece of furniture, just as food is more than fuel. “It seems to me,” wrote M.F.K. Fisher, “that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” Around a table is where these three things meet. Our lives are formed by memories, and the focus of mine is the food I’ve cooked and the people I’ve cooked for, the people who have sat at my table, as well as the other tables I’ve eaten at, from the blue formica table of my childhood, to the mottled zinc one that is the nexus of my life now.

This book, like all the books I’ve written and all the cookery books I’ve read, is not just a manual, but a collection of stories and a container of memories. But then, any recipe ever written, any meal ever eaten, is a story, the story of home cooking which, in turn, is about who we are, where we’ve come from and the lives that we’ve lived, and what we say to each other – all to sit at our table and eat the food we’ve made for them.’

At My Table, Nigella Lawson

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

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