Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sitting around the kitchen table

Four generations of women
I grew up surrounded by women of strong character.   My mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmother were able to handle life’s ups and downs with grace. The more difficult the situation, the more determined they were to overcome the problems. 

Their example of grace under fire, their “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” approach to trouble, has definitely influenced my attitude and my capacity to catch life’s curve balls. It is as if their strength of will has been passed on from generation to generation.

Warm memories of Sunday mornings
Me (in the white), with my sisters on a Sunday morning
I have vivid memories of Sundays with these three women. Together, my three sisters, my mother, my grandmother, and I headed off to church, where we met my great grandmother. She was always there ahead of us, in her usual place. She sat on the right as you entered the church, about halfway up, at the end of the pew.  In her hand, she clutched her black rosary beads, and we were conscious of the clink of the beads as she turned to smile at us before resuming her prayers.

After church, we would go over to her house, which was situated across the highway and half a block down the back lane from the church. Often, my little sister and I would walk with our grandmothers, while my mother drove the car over. Sometimes, we would urge our grandmothers to hurry, or we would rush off ahead, hoping to arrive before my mother in the car.  Other times, we relished the leisurely walk, holding hands as we happily chattered away.

 My great grandmother (center), with my grandmother to the left,
my mother to the  right, surrounded by me and my sisters
When we walked into my great grandmother’s house, we were treated to the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked bread. We knew that thick slices of buttered toast, accompanied with her delicious red currant jelly, made from the fruit she tended in her large garden, were on the morning’s menu.

The toast satisfied our hunger, but the lively conversations that ensued were the best part of our time in the kitchen. The women always had a week’s worth of catching up on family news, and as we grew older, my sisters and I would chirp in with our opinions.

Roots that reach deep into the past

When I reflect on that time in my life, I am reminded that I have roots that reach deep into the past, before the formation of my earliest memories. The four generations of women gathered in that kitchen tangibly symbolized previous generations. Each generation helped to shape our individual and collective stories.  The story continues to unfold, stretching into the future, as my daughter’s life, and the lives of my sons are interwoven with the lives of these same women.

My daughter and I in the matching sweaters, my grandmother and my mother

Faith and family informed the lives of these women. In the pew, and around the table, I witnessed a living faith, infused with love.  The spirituality in that kitchen may have had originated in the personal piety of my great grandmother’s clinking rosary beads and bended knee, but it strongly manifested itself in familial relationships.

Not every moment of these relationships was perfect. Sometimes, the women argued. Sometimes they exchanged harsh words in anger. But always, the little kitchen was warm with deep affection. There was the willingness to admit a mistake, to forgive an offense, and a readiness to help one another. 

The experience of those Sunday mornings, first as we gathered at church, and then as we broke bread around my grandmother’s table, was foundational to my spiritual formation.  I absorbed many values, and learned about faith and relationships on those Sunday mornings.

The witness of faith
While my faith is experienced in the present, its origins are rooted in the past, in the witness of my family, and in the witness of the first Christians, who encountered the resurrected Jesus, and passed the faith of that first Easter morning onto future generations.

Easter faith, boiled down to its essential element, is the story of God’s timeless love affair with humanity. It is a story rooted in the past, encountered in the present, and reaching into the future.

Easter faith encounters God waiting in the pew for our arrival: God guiding us across the highway: God baking the bread to satisfy our hunger: God dying on a cross to forgive our offenses.

Easter is the story of God and us, of grace overcoming fire. It is the story of a God whose unconditional love for us will stop at nothing, not even death, to sit at the kitchen table with us.

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