A friend of mine had this little poster on her Facebook page this morning. It showed up on the heels of a conversation at work last night about the nature of atoms and how much space there is in them. (I didn’t understand everything, but I did listen.) One of my colleagues said, “Atoms are made of mostly nothing.”
Not so with stories.
Over the past two Saturdays, I’ve had the privilege to gather with groups of people in two different area churches to talk about my book. The first was a potluck where we invited people to bring a dish that had a story with it. As we ate, we told the stories: pizza that carried memories of being an AFS exchange student; applesauce flavored with other fruit, as grandma used to do; green tomato relish, from another grandmother; Waldorf salad from childhood; Christmas tamales; Key Lime Pie and memories of the Woolworth lunch counter; mom’s sausage rolls; mom’s biscuits; mom’s bean salad; Nebraskan corn casserole; German muesli; and Italian mushrooms and tomatoes.
We shared the stories with tears and laughter, digesting the love and tenacity with which each of us held those memories. And the humor. One told of sitting in a doctor’s office one day and seeing a magazine with the word “posthumous” on it — a new word to her: after death. She first confused the word with hummus, so she brought hummus to our meal, saying it reminded her of the way we bring food to one another after a funeral. Post hummus.
The second gathering was over tea, with some snacks, and in the course of our conversation I asked those gathered to talk about what meal time was like growing up, which also led us to talk about what meal times are like now — what we have held on to and what we have worked to change. Before long, we were talking about much more than food: family dynamics, dreams found and lost, the unexpected turns of life. Once again, we digested the gifts offered to one another and left stronger and feeling more loved, even in the midst of much that remained unsettled and unsure.
Each time I have a chance to hear people tell their stories, I am more convinced that when Jesus said, “As often as you do this . . .” he wasn’t talking about the ritual of Communion as much as he was every time we break bread, together or alone. When we stop to nourish our bodies we must also remember we are nourishing our souls, lest we fail to do so. Every meal from a ham sandwich to a high holy day is a chance to remember, to digest — again — the truth that we are wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and worthy to be loved.