I think the subject line of this post is redundant.  In this health-conscious society, we hear of “balanced meals” or “5 small meals a day” or even “nutrisystem prepackaged meals.”  In these cases, “meal” just refers to a quantity of food eaten at a certain time.

Living as a single person has given me the opportunity to think about something others probably take for granted.  Meal time.  Growing up in a tight family, meals were eaten together around the table.  It was a time to share about your day or present concerns, and, most importantly, listen to others’ plans, concerns, joys, and sorrows.  It was a time of fellowship.  It was time of community.

I heard a theologian somewhere say that essential to the nature of “meal” is the idea of community.  At first I was a little offended– did that mean I could go days without eating a meal?  Ha!  Well, after living on my own for two years now, I think he’s right.

It’s strange to eat alone.  When I had a card table sitting in the corner of my dining area, pretending to be a dining room table, I rarely sat there… it was too strange to sit amongst empty chairs, as if I thought if I squinted while I ate, I could imagine people sitting with me.  Now, I don’t even have a fake dining room table.  I eat on the floor or I sit at my kitchen bar on a stool.  But even that is strange… where do I look?  Into my kitchen at the wall?  Down at my food?

I find that when I eat by myself, I eat too fast.  I don’t stop to enjoy the food in front of me– whether it’s a microwave pizza or a balanced plate of chicken, cous-cous, and green beans.  There’s nothing to do but shovel it into my face.  What am I going to do?  Put my fork down and stare at my cabinets for awhile?  Talk to my imaginary friend between bites?

The last few days, I watched television while I ate– since I didn’t have cable, I indulged in a guilty-pleasure– a well-known late 80s/early 90s sitcom about six high school kids and their principal that I happen to own on DVD.  But it was kind of scary… it almost became pavlovian, and when I was making dinner it was natural to go flip on the TV set and pop in another episode.

That’s when I realized community was essential.  I was uncomfortable eating alone, so I found solace eating with the kids of Bayside High.  Not exactly what that theologian was getting at…

This isn’t to make you all feel sorry for me.  Solitude is vital for life, and not enough people are comfortable with it… not enough people are blessed to even experience it!  Someday I’ll probably long for these quiet dinners alone….

Nah.  Because meals are meant to be shared.  Italians know how to do it… gather the family and friends around the table, share life’s high points and low points… gather around food– something that is so cultural, yet surpasses culture… together, share God’s gifts…  Some of my favorite memories come from meal times, and the others are often reminisced there.  Even when we’re not eating, my family tends to gather in the dining room or the kitchen.  There’s something about those places…

Perhaps it is because we are meant for union, and in God’s grand plan, that union is found in a meal — in a banquet…. the heavenly banquet… and that banquet comes to earth in the Mass, where we are given Jesus’ body for our daily, supersubstantial bread.  So, in a very real sense, our humble meals are shadows of the perfect meal, made present on the altars daily in Catholic churches.

So tomorrow evening, I’ll be eating alone in my apartment.   But tomorrow morning, I’ll be eating a meal– a heavenly meal, accompanied by the Church.  And that’s a pretty good community to eat with, don’t you think?