Scrubbing the table

On Thursday night at Dinner Church, we were anticipating Pentecost. We shared the passage from John 14 when Jesus promises the Advocate who will remain with his disciples after his ascension. Conversation circled around the question of God’s presence here and now. And after the inevitable talk about Scripture and the King James Version vs the New Revised Standard Version (we’re big on this conversation at our church – one might even say well-rehearsed…) we spoke about the in-breaking of the Spirit in daily life. It felt good, but I must say that I can’t actually remember much of our conversation. Maybe because Plum was squirrelly in my arms in that bit of the conversation. And in many moments since, for that matter. I’m feeling a little worn thin right now and I know I could do with more sleep, so maybe my focus isn’t what it should be. But no one gets tested on congregational supper chats, right?

What does stick with me was what Antonio said at the end of our evening. Like us, he’s a recent addition to the Edinburgh scene and is finding his feet in and around moments of culture shock. He hadn’t said much throughout the evening but at the end of the meal, he had something to say. He said that he wasn’t usually one to make comments about how one country is better than another, but he had been thinking about – and missing – a practice from his home. Antonio is a member of the Waldensian Church, a pre-Lutheran protestant church in Italy. (It has a fascinating history – you can read more about it here.)

He thought that we don’t touch each other enough. He said that in Italy whenever and wherever you meet someone, you embrace and kiss or at the very, very least, you shake hands. He said that this action “breaks the ice” – an English expression that he quite liked. Touching shows that we are not divided but are connected like family. When you touch someone, you are showing trust. There is nothing between you but connection. For Antonio, this was a simple expression of his faith.

His words have kept me company today.

I have been thinking of the people I touch – Plum, of course, Beangirl and Blue. The Spouse. My colleagues. Other mothers I meet in the schoolyard when I go to pick up the children at the end of their day. Other children who rush up to show me something from their backpacks, something in their hands. I think about all the things that my hands touch, too. Because there are connections between us and the physical world, aren’t there? My fountain pen which belonged to my grandfather. The tools I use in the garden. The apples I bought at the store this afternoon. The plates and the forks and the coffee mugs that need to be washed again. Maybe, if I am aware, I could manage to break the ice with these things, too. What does trust look like there? Connection?

There is a line from a W. H. Auden poem that rings here for me.

“and the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.”

Auden writes about returning to mundane perception after Christmas celebration. There’s a touch of grim rational reality about scrubbing the table. There’s a jolting feeling of necessity after revelation. You might find a place for this feeling after Easter, too, and that would be fitting today as we approach Ascension, the grand finale of the Easter season. We are leaving the stories of Christ’s earthly ministry with its wisdom and wonder. But we are left with the world and the world’s needs. Our feet stay on the ground, planted and remaining where the table needs scrubbing and our scrubbing gives the table meaning.

May our hands touch the world with love and blessing, whatever the work we do.

May we touch each other with gentle connection, whatever our conversation.


About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.