The Cluttered Table by Rev. Teresa Blythe

The Cluttered Table

by Teresa Blythe

Would you look at that? An old 50’s style Formica kitchen table with matching chairs squeezed into a one-car garage–set aside, deemed useless, reduced to nothing more than a plant stand.

That table has a story. It used to be someone’s dinette set. I can see it sitting in any number of kitchens waiting for the family to gather around it and have a meal. I can see a little boy with his schoolbooks spread out on it, doing homework until late at night. Mom probably used it at times to hold her sewing machine so she could make a costume for Halloween. I see cats and dogs begging from underneath it and friends drinking coffee and sharing stories around it.

The kitchen table is an American icon representing our belief in familial love and fellowship. It is so iconic it has been preserved in Norman Rockwell paintings, honored in films like Soul Food and Babette’s Feast, and regularly serves as a set for family based situation comedies on television (think of black-ish, Modern Family, or The Middle). For Christians, the ultimate family table is the site of the Eucharistic banquet — the divine fellowship of God’s children.

Oh, the blessed table. And here this one sits, jammed up and set aside like so much of yesterday’s news. Just taking up precious space.

Why does this image grab me so as I take my daily walk? It must remind me of something in myself that is jammed up, junked up and set out to rust and gather dust.

Maybe it’s a symbol of my own complicity in a culture that collects so much stuff that we become victims of our own affluence. We start to feel like that garage. Or, rather, our lives start to feel like that table and the world like that garage. We are squeezed into jobs that don’t necessarily fit but they pay the bills so we can buy more stuff. We are packed so tightly because we’ve been sold this update and that upgrade and now we don’t have room for it all.

That garage is also how my mind feels after binge-watching television. Story after story after story. Then I fall asleep and dream these cluttered dream-stories based on stories I collected all day long. Where is my story in the midst of all this? My story. Did I inadvertently put it out to the garage to gather dust?

Now is a good time to free that symbolic table. Perhaps loosen up the space between the table and chairs, letting the table breathe in the confines of the garage or move it somewhere less crowded. Give it away to someone whose family needs a table. We can remember the sacramental nature of the table. Gather friends around to laugh and enjoy one another. Tell our stories.

Since finishing seminary 15 years ago, my vocation has been that of a spiritual director–helping people recapture and appreciate their stories and then spotting God’s handiwork in them. Some of these stories are of their life. Some are stories they have heard from popular culture and find illustrative of their life. Some are dreams and visions. But they all say something real about spirituality—that is, our faith lived out in everyday life.

I may never know the facts about that cluttered table I noticed in someone’s garage. But what it evokes in me is eternally true. I need to make space so that my own story will emerge. Unclutter to see how God is living out God’s story in the world.

image credit: Christine Jackowski