Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Communion of Dining

One author observed that in close families, there were two factors in common: they were together at mealtimes and bed times. I grew up in a family of 9, where every single meal was taken around the family table, a structure my father built to accommodate his 7 children.

My memories of these meals were not particularly of the food, but of the gathering. Being active children who spent a lot of time outdoors in the fresh air, we had good appetites, and always responded eagerly to the dinner bell. This was mounted from the roof of the house. Mother hit it with a metal piece that came with the bell, to ring us all in from the country area that we lived. It was a way of saving her voice.

Mealtimes were one of the times that our boisterous family had some structure. We were not allowed to talk while eating. Our manners were watched carefully. We weren't to reach for food if it meant reaching across someone else. We had to ask, "Will you please pass the potatoes?" Then, the dish was passed from the nearest person, around the table to the one who asked. It was not allowed to be slid across the table.

At the onset of the meal, food was passed from our father and mother to the person next to them, and on around the table. We all helped ourselves, but we had to be mindful that others wanted to eat, too, and be careful not to take greedy helpings. Seconds were allowed, but we had a little ritual where we would ask, "Would anyone else like the last helping of this?" to make sure no one else wanted it.

As we grew older, more conversation was allowed, but nothing of a gory nature (no surgeries, descriptions of accidents, or other things that would be revolting while consuming food---no "organ recitals," as we call them now.) Our parents enjoyed us, but our lives were parent-focused rather than youth focused. The conversation would be guided by our parents until we could prove our ability to speak in an edifying way.

Meal times were actually so wonderful, that they were to us the same as going to a movie or a special event is today. They were the highlight of the day. Before we were allowed to be seated, some of us had to help set the table and put the food on. We were asked to be seated only when mother was ready, and not encouraged to sit and wait or get up to the table just because we saw it being set.

Often on the table was a centerpiece created from nature by one of the children. Mother liked the lilies from the lake, which she gathered when she rowed out in the little dory (a skiff, a small row boat) in the mornings. These were put in a shallow bowl of water, where their waxy beauty and scent enchanted us all for days. Other centerpieces were as imaginative as you can get: ferns and rocks with moss in a box, or sea shells in a bowl of sand. Flowers were always a favorite, consisiting of fireweed or forget-me-nots. Lacking nature's centerpieces, a bottle made of colored glass was a delight, especially if the light shone through it and created patterns on the table.

Our food was incredibly simple. It consisted of whatever came from the garden, and the taste was splendid: new potatoes, salads made with fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and strawberries for dessert. It was not so much the food that created a common communion for us, but the activity of sitting around the table together. I believe that this ritual can go a long ways to restoring the loyalty and harmony of the home today. Around their own family dining table, the members can be honest and open in expressing their values. The parents are free to teach their children the importance of good manners. Families do not always feel the freedom to express their own values and beliefs, when eating in public. Although eating out is a real treat, there is no place like home for creating the family communion of dining.


Anonymous said...

I saw the most lovely looking book in my Mother-in-law's kitchen! "Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping."
She was all too happy to let me borrow it, and I'm a quarter of the way through. I am loving it! I just thought I'd let veryone know there's a book out there that's easy to find! :-)
It talks about a bit of everything, and even has some neat lil ideas!

Cherish the Home said...

Hi Mrs. Sherman,
I just thought I'd let you know that I've posted some pictures of my kitchen...if you'd care to see them. (o:

I really liked the rules your parent's had for the dinner table. I think children are VERY important but I don't think they should dominate or be the center of's a bad habit that they can end up coming to expect as adults.


Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful example of mealtimes. I wonder how many times peace and harmony are sacrificed for a quick,everybody grab your own supper. I too came from a large farming family. We took 3 meals a day that included both parents. The only exeption was the children eating the noon meal at school when it was in session. It was just a given that we would all be together at those times. I can never, ever remember a time when either parent, ran out to pick up dinner or did not join the family.

Anonymous said...

Nancy Campbell of has articles encouraging family togetherness at mealtimes. She now has a dvd for sale on the family mealtime. This is one of her free email newsletters:


Exodus 25:23-24, "You shall also make a table of acacia wood. and you shall overlay it with pure gold."

The first mention of the table in the Bible is in the above passage where God tells Moses to make a table from acacia wood and then to overlay it with pure gold. In the Bible wood always speaks of humanity. The pure gold speaks of the divinity of Christ. It is interesting that this table was to be made of both wood and gold, speaking of Christ's humanity and His divinity. However, I believe it also relates to the tables we have in our homes.

We come to our table, loaded with humanity. We come with our
weaknesses and failings. Our children come to the table in their humanity. They are certainly not perfect. Sometimes they are fussy. Sometimes they don't want to eat. They may grumble and complain. There may even be arguments. Without God's intervention, it can be a total shambles! But God, represented by the table overlaid with pure gold, wants to come to your table.

He wants to bring His presence to your table. He wants to cover your humanity with His divinity. He wants to fellowship with you at your table. This is what He did at the beginning of creation with Adam and Eve, and He wants to continue this practice throughout all generations. (Genesis 3:8-9) Every day He came to talk with Adam and Eve. He did not come to them in the heat of the day or during their hours of work (for God established the principle of work before sin entered the Garden of Eden). He came to them in the cool of the day, in the evening time-the time of the day when we gather around the meal table to eat together, fellowship and relax.

God wants to join you at this time of each day too. Invite Him to come. Don't hide from His presence as Adam and Eve did after they had sinned. Make sure that you are gathered together as a family to meet Him. I think that many times God comes to homes, waiting to join them as they sit at table together-but the table is empty! No meal is prepared, mother is preoccupied with other things or is still out in the car with the children, or the family is snacking in front of the TV!

The table of wood and pure gold that God told Moses to make was for the Holy Place in the tabernacle in the wilderness. Each week the priests would bake 12 loaves of bread which they would place on the table. These loaves were called the Bread of His Presence. At the end of the week the priests would eat the loaves together in the presence of the Lord. This also speaks of God delighting to fellowship with us at our table.

When you give thanks at the beginning of each meal, invite God to come with all His divinity to your table. Acknowledge His presence. His presence will bring the atmosphere of Heaven. It will cover your earthy humanity. I don't think you can do without Him at your table. I can't.



"Father, I ask that you will come to our table each ay. I thank you that your presence can change the atmosphere at our table. Lord, we need you. Amen."


I prepare my table for the King of kings as well as my family!

Many women like to save these devotions. They print them out and keep them in a folder to read over and over again. Some print them out and pin them on the fridge with a magnet to read through the week. If you are printing this devotion and need it to be smaller, highlight and change to a smaller font.

If you know others who would be blessed by these devotions, you are welcome to forward them or let them know they can subscribe by sending a blank r! email to

To unsubscribe from the Above Rubies Devotional, send a blank email to

Anonymous said...

Dear Mrs. Sherman,
In our home, we are together most of the day. My husband and my son work in the late afternoon and evening hours. And my husband is not much of a breakfast eater, he is unpredictable. It is so easy to slip up and and not stick to creating that lunchtime meal. My oldest son has a tendency to want to stay with his own project and not come to the table. Your post is a reminder to me, to keep making that noon time meal a priority, for all of us to be seated at the table together, at least for one major meal. I have found there is a strange type of sorrow that comes over me, when we don't have this time together, consistently.
I appreciate your post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter.

Anonymous said...

"Start a Revolution--Eat Dinner With Your Family"

Gina said...

Thank you for writing about your family mealtimes; what a wonderful group of memories to treasure! We had nine in our family, too, but my father was so stern and intimidating that we never enjoyed conversations. Now, with our own four children, I treasure those talks around the table. When I think that my oldest will probably leave the house in three years I become sad, and am determined to make the most of this time.

Anonymous said...

You mention fern as one of the possible decorations on the table.
I have a lot of fern growing in my yard. It is beautiful, but, the idea never occured to me, to bring some inside the home. Such a simple idea. Florists use fern all the time! Well, today, I brought some in the home. My family loved it.
Glad you shared that!

Amy Howard said...

Thank you for your post on the family meal table. I want to make you and your readers aware that there is a DVD available through Franklin Springs Family Media entitled the Family Meal Table, co-produced by a name many of you will recognize: Nancy Campbell from Above Rubies.

My husband and I found this DVD inspiring enough to write about it on our own blogs recently. I hope this will help anyone out there who is trying to start this tradition in their own home and bring back something precious that has been lost in our day.

Spunky said...

While our mealtimes weren't at all the like yours, I still have wonderful memories of mealtimes. Thanks for sharing your family traditions with us.

Anonymous said...

My husband taught our sons to stand behind their chairs until I was seated at the table. When they were small it seemed kind of silly. I am so grateful that we taught them this way to honor the women in their lives!
Over the years, as we took in 'stray' boys, they learned this habit, too. My sons still practice this as adults; it means the world to their wives and in-laws!