Dinner parties can change the world

My friend Mary came over for dinner last night. For a few glorious hours, she and my roommate and I sat at the table and drank wine and told stories and listened to Ella Fitzgerald. It had been a rough day, a day of burdens and stress and countless thoughts of I just want to go home. That time finally came, and soon I was standing in my kitchen whisking a marinade and sautéing chicken and chopping vegetables, the heaviness of the day slowly beginning to lift from my shoulders.

I love the moment when the doorbell rings. It cuts into my frenzy of preparation, and, no matter how close to or far from completion I am, I race down the stairs to throw open the door with a smile and a hug and a Welcome! I then find myself in a balancing act of playing the host while continuing to prep. And I love the challenge.

Having a guest over for dinner, like my dear friend Mary with all her enthusiasm and joy and wit, does something profound: it draws me out of myself. Whatever selfish cares I’ve been brooding on suddenly come secondary by necessity, now with a person to welcome, to tend to, to listen to and share with. And there’s something sacred about sitting around a table together, sharing a meal you’ve prepared thoughtfully, with the very person now sitting across from you in mind. That time around a table is nourishing and instructive. There’s listening and responding, checking and replenishing glasses, filling up of the mind and heart as well as the stomach. No matter the content of the meal, I find every dinner party to be a veritable feast.

There’s a timelessness to those hours around the table. We put our phones away and disregard the clock. We sit and linger. We give and take, divulge secrets and listen intently, share the seasons of our lives and patterns of our hearts. I was struck last night by our intersecting lives, the crisscrossing lines that have led us to friendship, the rich differences in vocational discernment and daily routine and ongoing dreams. We counseled each other where we could and admitted when the mystery won out. My heart lightened with laughter and my mind was carried far away from the hours of looking inward I’d done that day. And all it took was some chicken and a salad around a simple table.

Can they change the world? I like to think so. I like to think that a few hours around the table every week or two can be an inestimable balm to the soul, can remind us to serve and give, ask and listen, notice and share in the sufferings and joys of others. Those hours of chopping and cooking, setting the table, sharing in conversation bring a great freedom: the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It’s an expansion of heart, a burst of new life, a remembering of our shared humanity. A host of little miracles, really.

So, I urge you: host a dinner party. It doesn’t matter if it’s grilled cheese on paper plates or a three-course meal by candlelight, one friend or seven, sitting under the stars or cramped around a coffee table. Invite, welcome, receive. And see if your life, your world, doesn’t begin to change.




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