By Micha Kandal

Everyone remembers middle school. Character building began, and we all got to discover what the word awkward meant in its purest form. The most important socializing and status building happened in a giant room with designated lines and different chairs for the different classes or cliques. This place was the lunchroom.

We might not put much thought into those faint middle school memories, but this was most likely the first place we actually “gathered” and shared in our community over a meal. The importance of this gathering goes so much deeper than the gossip or drama that was being discussed. It was a daily opportunity to come together, be present together, and encourage one another. This is pretty deep for 7th graders, but I think the basic fundamental act of eating and gathering together stems from this time in life.

Today, the only time I hear the word gather seems to be when someone writes it in really pretty calligraphy and designates it as their Facebook cover photo or when we begin talking and prepping for the holidays. This nonchalant view of the word gather completely strips it of its deepest meaning. To come together or celebrate each other. To sympathize or rejoice. These actions are all best experienced in the company of others. Gathering and meal sharing is so ritualistic everywhere, not just in American culture. For big celebrations like weddings or holidays to memorials and remembrances of loved ones, to the daily evening dinner.

We gather around a table and we share a meal because this setting and place instantly unifies us. I think this happens through prayer especially. We bless the hands that made the food. We are creating a space to invite Jesus to the table. As we are slightly disengaged from our busy day, we are all on the same level, eating the same food, simply just existing in the same place. Jesus is there. Through the conversations had and the questions asked. This is so easily taken for granted. It almost seems like second nature to me, to prepare a meal and eat it in the company of my current Netflix show. This is the new norm. Sometimes not even thinking about the gratitude that should come with each and every meal.

There is a big opportunity we miss when we treat meals, particularly dinner, like a “to-do list” item. Conversations are being missed and moments of connection and genuine community building are just pushed aside. There is so much more we can add to our days! So much we are missing, just because we are so accustomed to our rituals of Netflix or eating at separate times. Life is busy, families have schedules to balance, and roommates live separate lives.

However, each day, we have the opportunity to invite one another to the table. To genuine conversation. Parents invest in their kids’ lives each time they ask about school. Roommates are able to invest in each other when they share the same kitchen, preparing the same meal. All of these moments that so easily slip by us can become incredible spontaneous moments of grace, redemption, and joy. So, as we near the holidays, I invite you to invite those closest to you to the table. Whether the table is a dorm room couch or a family table that seats 12, take advantage of the present. Take advantage of being able to text or call those you live in community with and share a meal.