Living with intentionality is what Wendall Berry would call living with the mindset of a nurturer. In his book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Berry describes the nurturer as one whose “characteristic wish is to work as well as possible,” and who “serves land, household, community, place” through “mutual care, generosity, and communal joy.”1 By being primarily concerned about the good of the community, the nurturer is also concerned about how the society functions, as opposed to only being worried about himself. Berry contrasts the nurturer with the exploiter, one who only looks out for the good and profit of himself rather than the flourishing of the community. Part of helping the community flourish is being distinctive in the choices we make about how we eat dinner.
The way I eat has changed since I began working at The Cornucopia, a local and sustainable vegetable farm near my hometown, five years ago. It’s not only because I discovered a whole new set of ingredients I never knew existed, like red kale (which I can hardly wait for to come up this spring), but also because of the community I have experienced around a shared table. What changed my perspective on food was when John and Janna, owners of The Cornucopia, invited Rachel, my co-worker, and I to sit at their table for lunch. Part of sharing in this community around the table means I get a glimpse of the kingdom of God through the relationships I have with Rachel, John, and Janna. From Rachel, I learn the importance of thoughtfulness and a willingness to listen. Janna exemplifies generosity and genuine concern for others, while John sets an example of what it means to have joy in all areas of life.
“We are called to relational nurturing when we eat, a practice Christ models in the gospels, and a habit that the early church continues.”
We are called to relational nurturing when we eat, a practice Christ models in the gospels, and a habit that the early church continues. Sam Sifton, author of the cookbook See You On Sunday, begins his book with a theory of dinner: “and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46, ESV). The focus of Sifton’s book is to encourage readers to eat together consistently. Sitting around a table, first and foremost, shows mutual care for one another. All people involved, willingly or not, give up time to be with everyone else at the table. We relinquish our mythical control on time to spend moments sharing in the life of another—time that could be spending doing something “more productive.” Eating together takes practice. Practice leads to consistency. The people that we find ourselves creating these habits with begin to expect that you will all eat together. Consistency leads to mutual care where everyone at the table wants to be at the table because they have grown to truly love those they eat with. I expect that when I go to work, I will eat lunch with everyone else. Occasionally, Rachel and I don’t work together all morning, so eating with her is my opportunity to ask about her life. In this space, I receive the opportunity to listen to Rachel in the same way I see how she listens to me.
Out of mutual care for others spills generosity. The host shows generosity by inviting other people into their home and by preparing a meal. Time, resources, and money all go into preparing and eating food. The host planned what to eat, taking into consideration anyone with food allergies or preferences. Then they go to buy all the ingredients and prepare it, both of which take time that could be spent elsewhere. People present at the table also need to practice generosity. Meals are not meant to be efficient in the way that people would like them to be. The temptation of the guest is to concentrate only on what they could be doing in this moment instead of focusing on sharing in the lives of everyone else. John and Janna generously invite Rachel and I to spend time off the clock with them. They engage in fellowship with us not out of obligation, but simply because they want to share in our lives.
“Sharing a meal with others fosters neighborliness, even among family members, and puts everyone on equal terms.”
Sharing a meal with others fosters neighborliness, even among family members, and puts everyone on equal terms. When a meal is shared, everyone eats the same thing; there’s no distinction between “Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free” because all the plates look the same (Galatians 3:28, ESV). Friendships only grow when both people decide to see the other person as an image-bearer of God. Neighbors are people we can depend on for help and trust because of the consistent way they’ve shown us love and generosity. The friendships I have with the people I work closest with were formed because of consistent neighborliness and generosity.
Eating together is ingrained into our very identity as Christians. Christ himself instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, a feast shared around the joyful coming together of God’s people. The feast shows our dependence on God and how he is our source of joy, a state of being we can only achieve by communing with one another. This is not the feeling of temporary happiness that comes from a Happy Meal. Sitting down at the dinner table and eating with others is an incredibly profound form of fellowship. We are invited into the reality that the person across the table is created in the image of God and therefore treasured in His sight in the same way that we are. Food, especially good food, is what nourishes and sustains us, and all of humanity holds this in common. No living part of God’s creation is exempt from eating. As Christians we are presented with choices every day about how we spend our time, about how we will further the kingdom of God on earth. These everyday decisions reflect our priorities. The way I see the kingdom coming at work doesn’t only happen at John and Janna’s table; it just started there, and then translated over into every other part of our lives. I choose to reflect my joyful dependence on God as I seek to live in daily communion with his people and the rest of creation by intentionally sitting down to dinner.
This article is part of our ongoing series: Living with Intentionality. Our lives are a series of decisions of how best to love others, care for our creation, seek good, prevent harm, and glorify God. We will highlight these articles where fellow believers make very intentional choices that can expand our imagination for what the Christian life—and the life of the mind—can accomplish.
Berry, 7-9 ↩