Refection Reflection

Few things are lonelier than eating alone in a restaurant. I found myself in that situation recently when I had an evening between events in a strange city and had to dine by myself. I took along a book and learned something of seventeenth century theology while I ate. But I also reflected on my situation and why it is that eating needs to be social.

That it does, is obvious. When I lived in Bronxville, there was a parishioner who would invite my wife and me to have dinner with him on a regular basis at his club. His wife had died; he didn’t know how to cook; and meals even at his club were unbearably lonely. He made it a practice to invite someone to eat with him. The truck driver can sit at the bar in the roadside café and talk to the waitress or another truck driver. My brother had a dog with the same principles. If he and his wife were going out for dinner, they would fill the dog’s bowl before leaving but it remained untouched until they returned. Even a dog hates to eat alone!

Food and conversation were made for each other. Eating alone, I was finished in 30 minutes. That’s not time enough to digest the main meal of the day. Someone with whom to talk slows the eating to a proper digestive pace. Likewise a good conversation requires time to digest what is said. Bites of food between bursts of conversation slow the talk to allow reflection. Together, food and conversation provide each other with the necessary time for each to be absorbed.

No wonder the central service of the church is Eucharist and sermon, food and conversation. No wonder the first English Prayer Book required that the Eucharist not be celebrated alone; there must be a congregation of at least two or three. For the priest to “eat alone” distorts the nature of the sacrament. A private mass is inconsistent with the nature of Christianity; it makes a lonely meal of what ought to be a social event.

But if I hadn’t been eating alone, I might never have realized all this.

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