Nouwen, Candles, and Presence, Oh MY!


“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

That is why it is so important to “set” the table. Flowers, candles, colorful napkins all help us to say to one another, ‘This is a very special time for us, let’s enjoy it!'”      

-Henri Nouwen



The really busy mama had told me with a mix of shame and defeat that she only got one meal out of a week of days with her children anymore, sitting down together around a table.  They all had these activities, these schedules, these demands upon their presence.

What I’m not going to do is get up on my soap box about busyness, not right now.  I’d rather submit a few thoughts about the times when we can be around a table together, scooping up and doling out life one to another, in the big holy ordinary of eating a meal in common.


1) Light some candles.  I can’t think of a better way to get people drawn-in to the table, to the people seated ’round it, than candlelight.  The surrounding darkness makes the table the middle of our story, a place of importance, the rest of the house no longer competes with it’s piles of mail to be sorted and discarded backpacks and lost shoes.  It’s calming (unless you have a budding pyro in the bunch….I hear tell that they make electric tea lights now).

2)  Music?  Yes, please.  There’s some out there that just lifts your day right off your shoulders and whisks it away, beyond the candle’s light.

3)  Flowers, branches, a tablecloth, some bit of beauty there that says that this space was made mindfully.  Flowers usually mean something important is happening, right?  A prom, a wedding, a funeral, a new relationship, the celebration of an old one.

4)  Ditch the paper plates or plasticware (unless you have a budding destructo little person, of course).  The tactile and aural qualities of eating on ceramic or porcelain is worth that extra effort.  I almost think it makes the food taste better :).

5)  Ditch the electronics; no tv babbling in the background nor texting.  If your phone keeps dinging in the next room, go turn it off during dinner so that you’re present at the table, fully there.


Happy feasting…


2 thoughts on “Nouwen, Candles, and Presence, Oh MY!

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