To set the table is to commit to grace.
A set table implies a willingness to believe that our needs will be met.
At the table, the nutritional needs of the body will be supplied by the production of the earth. At the table, the building blocks and the power units of the body: amino acids and adenosine triphosphate; destroyed by time and wear, will be replenished through one of life’s constants: eating. As the day cycles through the meals of morning, midday, and evening, the body cycles through the production of energy. From the rise and fall of a sleeping child’s back to the satisfied sigh of the last chore of the day, humans depend on this food-fuel.
When you, you determined optimist, set the table, you are making a commitment, in china and steel, to become obedient to the needs of your body and to believe, once again, that the earth can meet them. To set the table is an act of faith. It is a statement that there is enough for my needs and for the needs of those who share this table with me. It is a step of preparation made in spite of the overwhelming need that would overwhelm this gesture of hope. To place the plate and the cup is to commit to hope that through the mystery of photosynthesis and pollination, the nutrients of the earth will infuse your body with strength. To fold the napkin just so is to, in the midst of scarcity, anticipate the abundance that will drip through your fingers and anoint your chin. To place to fork and the knife insists that, again this day, through the mystery of the table your bones will rise from desiccation to dance, to serve, and to love.
And if that is not an act of grace, I don’t know what is.
A grace that was there before the table was brought to the room and a grace that meets each diner with mystery, nourishment, and the challenge: are you willing to come, once again, to the table. A grace that is nourishing. A grace that joins us all, rich and poor, thin and wide, tired and driven, beautiful and ragged, in the primal act of eating. The obedience and violence, the growing and harvesting, the preparation and sharing, the digestion and nourishment...