Moving Along the Table

And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. ~ Luke 9:29-31

Growing up, many Thanksgiving and Christmas meals were the apex of the holidays. Aunt Kathy would clear out her living room to make space for a dining room table. For additional seating, she would put up card tables, covered in watercolor paint, in the corners of the living room.

Grandma (a public school librarian and avid reader) and Grandpa Pruitt (a cultivator of garden flowers), Great Uncle Loren and Aunt Thelma (who always mad a fuss about her homemade pie crust), and Great Uncle Bob (a WWII vet who saw heavy action in the Pacific and never fully recovered) and Aunt Lois sat at the head of the table. Their adult children (my aunts, uncles, and my parents) would sit in the remaining seats.

All the cousins sat in folding chairs, recliners, and even bouncy balls around the card tables. Uncle John, the family orator, said the blessing; and, Grandma Pruitt, the matriarch glowed like the evening sun while praising everyone’s presence and trying to maintain family peace.

The kids had so much fun eating at the card tables. There were fewer rules, and we did not have to worry about which fork to use. We ate cherry jello with sliced carrots on top and laughed at everything.

If a Great Aunt or Uncle passed on during the year, at the next holiday dinner the oldest cousin would get plucked from a seat at the card tables and moved to the big “formal” table. It was only a few feet but seemed like such a big move.

Now, as I approach my 60th birthday, I sit near the head of the table where my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and my parents all sat at one time. The elders of my youth have passed on, and I look longingly at my cousins’ grandchildren eating at the card tables covered in watercolor paint and permanent markers.

Henri Nouwen writes, “One of the most radical demands for you and me is the discovery of our lives as a series of movements or passages.” Nothing stays the same. As Nouwen says we are constantly moving from one phase of life to the next. We leave our mother’s womb and enter a brighter and darker world. We leave the security or the insecurity of home and find our own dining room table to enjoy shared meals on. We work, change jobs, raise kids, and build new traditions while remembering the old ones. “It seems as though we are always passing from one phase to the next, gaining and losing someone, some place, something.”

The view from the head of the table is challenging as life unfolds with all its beauty and pain. The joy of first love, the cries of newborn children. The tears shared while an elder slowly breathes their last breath. The pain of broken relationships. The joy of forgiveness.

“Our whole life is filled with losses. With every loss there are choices to be made. We can choose to live our losses as passages to anger, blame, hatred, and resentment, or we can choose to let these losses be passages to something new, something wider, and deeper,” says Nouwen.

On the mountain top, while Jesus is praying his face changes and “his clothes become dazzling white.” He is not alone. Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James, and John are with him. It is a moment of pure glory and light. Peter says, “It is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Luke 9:33).

Let us just stay in this beauty forever. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit at the card tables of our youth without any responsibilities or worries?

But Jesus is preparing his disciples for his “final passage” says Nouwen. He will go to Jerusalem and there he will suffer and die. He will pass from this world to the next.

“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says (Luke 12:32). Do not be afraid of the passages, the movements, the losses, and the inevitable changes in life.

As Nouwen profoundly writes, “The question is not how to avoid loss and make it not happen, but how to choose it as a passage, as an exodus to greater life and freedom.”

How do we respond to change? Passages? Movement?

Last summer after my long walk, I drove to Wichita, Kansas, to see Aunt Kathy and Uncle Ron. They don’t live anymore in the two-story house on 1814 Jackson Street where they hosted grand family dinners. Now they live in a small grandma apartment next to my cousin Shannon. Aunt Kathy, Uncle Ron, myself, and a couple of my cousins sat at a small table and ate tacos, beans, and rice for dinner.

So many loved ones were physically absent from that table, but we laughed within the Spirit of our saints while we told stories and remembered. It was a blessed night. Jesus said, “It is good for you that I leave, because unless I pass away, I cannot send you my spirit to help you and inspire you” (John 16:7).

Life is a continuous passage. “It is possible for us, like Jesus, to send our spirit of love to our friends (and family) when we leave them. Our spirit, the love we leave behind, is deeply in God’s spirit. It is our greatest gift to those we love,” writes Nouwen. When my aunt and uncle along with my cousins broke bread at that small table, we swam in the love of Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles.

The friends, the people, and the loved ones sitting at our tables always changes, but the spirit of love we share remains. May we bask in glory. May we see our “exodus” when that day comes, as a passage to more peace and love. Amen.

Blessings and peace,