Thursday, March 15, 2012

What a privilege....

On Tuesday night (March 13) a tragedy happened in one of the Swiss tunnels: The bus, carrying school children between 11-12 yrs of age and the accompanying adults returning from a ski trip, crushed into tunnel wall.
Only a few days earlier, two teenagers in the USA were standing by the coffin of their mother who died of cancer.
Two examples of orphaned parents and orphaned children. Tragedy and pain are bilateral. Commonly shared future buried in an empty seat at the table, in the silence of the phone number that will not be answered, or behind the door that will not yield a knock of the one.... Spaces that are devoid of the physical presence of the loved one, his or her habits, words, touch, routines, etc. are heavy with emptiness. Their load is invisibly crushing one to depth of human pain.
The tomb of Easter morning was an empty tomb. The emptiness of that space was initially confusing, perhaps even frightening for the women and Jesus' disciples who hurried to the place where their loved one was laid to rest. Yet, the emptiness of the Easter tomb had and continues to have a different "effect" on the people of faith. It charges people to live by spiritual imagination. In other words, it calls believers to imagine what shape, what flesh, what practices they will give to their life of faith with Jesus being resurrected? Yes, the body is gone, yet, there is a new task: to re-imagine, to re-create a new body, a new life that will remember, celebrate, and re-enact the life of the one who is gone.
I look at children who are able to age with their parents, I look at parents who are able to leave this world before their children do, I look at siblings who are able to grow their white hair together, I look at couples who are able to celebrate their diamond wedding anniversary, and I say to myself: What a privilege, what a gift! Yes, I believe that it is a privilege to have a family space and a family table occupied as long as possible. Yet, when the empty chair at the table sores our sight, we need, or even must, fill it with the legacy of the one who used to sit there.  This is a vision, a prayer, and a task that the Easter tomb calls people of faith to do.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

As a way of introduction....

let me describe the picture that you see: It is a Slovak Christmas table. This table was set by my mother and I on the Christmas Eve, as it is on the eve of Jesus Christ's birth that families in Slovakia begin to celebrate Christmas--by attending an evening service in various Protestant churches or a mid-night mass in the Roman-Catholic church, by opening the presents and having a dinner together. (The Orthodox Christians also have festivities, although for them Christmas begins on the Three Kings holiday.) This evening is also called Stedry Vecer or in translation The Generous Evening.
What is it generous in? For Christian families generosity is foremost celebrated in the gift of Christ's birth. But Christmas table itself offers its tangibles and symbols of generosity.  In each corner of the table there are coins hidden under the table-cloth to symbolize an abundant and prosperous year to come.  The walnuts and apples, lying loosely on the table, symbolize the abundance of health, especially as we open them and their insides are strong and healthy. Honey wine comes with a bee-keeping tradition of Slovakia, and its benefit is to keep a person warm during harsh winter temperatures. The wafers in the corner are given to each person at the table to further invoke strength and health. My mother usually makes a cross with honey on our foreheads as we eat a wafer to remind us of Christ's body--the gift of divine generosity enfleshed in the body of a babe.  The sauerkraft soup in the forefront of the picture is made of cabbage, sausages, dried plums and mushrooms--all food items generously grown in the Slovak region, and providing a solid diet for the generations of the Slovak people.
This table, with specific Christmas food on it, provides me with the sense of identity and story: It reveals my roots, my belonging, and the story of my family (and my nation to some degree) through food items, customs, and family eating practices. Trying to understand the basis for spiritual formation, in my case, Christian formation, begins with the understanding of my identity and story. Who am I? Whom do I belong? What defines me?  Existential questions in their search for answers can start in the fabric of every-day life. Table images and food items can appear to be banally simple to hold the answers of cosmic significance. Yet, the beginning of human quest for understanding can be grand in the ways it opens. Entry point into spiritual formation does not need to be a walk through the gates of theological and philosophical doctrines. Spiritual teaching and forming can begin by staying in touch with the earthiness of our every-day existence, such as meal and table fellowship, and by our ability to use these earthly things as tools to invoke curiosity about the bigger questions.
What does your family table reveal about your roots and your identity?