Day 3: Table Talk

Eating in silence with others can be a strange experience. Anyone who’s spent some time in a Religious Community on retreat and been invited to eat with the monks or nuns will experience some time of eating in silence.

We tried it a few times in College during our Lenten Retreat, although I dishonoured myself by allowing someone to make me laugh. The more I wasn’t allowed to laugh the worse it got, and so I left the table! Ignominious.

Many Religious Communities, at particular meals, also enjoy a slightly different experience when those who are sharing and serving the meal are read to. A book is chosen, read from beginning to end over a number of days or weeks. It’s not necessarily a religious text. It could be an autobiography or memoir, a travel book or novel – something that’s nourishing to the mind, informative, even entertaining. It’s one way, perhaps, of ensuring that talk at table is good quality!

That’s not to say that, for us, time at table can’t be a talkative occasion, as we catch up on tittle tattle, enjoy one another’s company, have fun.  But that practice of being read to, attending to something that is nourishing to the mind and spirit can be a lovely activity even if only seldom experienced.

The art of listening is important.  Sometimes, we simply don’t listen enough, so eager are we to talk, or to be distracted by something or someone else. 

How often have we been irritated when we sense that someone isn’t listening to us, when they haven’t attended to our question or heard something we’ve said to them, or a need we’ve shared with them.  How demoralising is it when the person you’re speaking to appears to be looking over your shoulder to see if anyone more interesting is around to talk to?

The art of listening is important.  Sometimes, we simply don’t listen enough, so eager are we to talk, or to be distracted by something or someone else. 

An important part of the Eucharist is The Liturgy of the Word through which God speaks to his people, and opens up to us the mystery of redemption and salvation.  Through the readings from Holy Scriptures our spirit is nourished, and Christ himself is present in the midst of the faithful through his word.

But God doesn’t simply speak to us as though we were passive listeners.  Since he sealed the Covenant on Mount Sinai, he has entered into a dialogue with his chosen people, both speaking and listening, responding in love, having patience even when they grumble and mumble.

This Covenant is renewed and fulfilled on another hill, Calvary.  “This is my blood of the new covenant,” said Jesus.  In the Eucharist, we enter into the unending dialogue between God and his covenant people, a dialogue sealed in the cross, and experienced in the sharing of the Eucharistic food.

The dialogue and exchange between God and his people continues.  We need to be attentive to what God is saying to us through Holy Scripture, confident that he attends to us too, listens to us speaking, sees the needs we bring, hears the prayer we make.

Whilst there is much use of silence at the Eucharistic table, there is also much talk, a rich dialogue, beautiful, timeless, transforming.

This is one of a series of 40 Meditations on the Mass for Lent 2021 from the Parish of Cardiff St Mary the Virgin

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