Every year, my cousins Audrey and Lee, pre-Covid, hosted amazing, gourmet family dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. We would gather and the food would be amazing. That was certain. Another thing that was certain is that we would have a time to socialize before dinner in the living room, connecting with the various people we hadn't seen since the last celebration. The other certainty was that Audrey would be sitting at one end of the table, and Lee and Lee at the other end.
What was uncertain, which made it a bit of an adventure, was where we would be seated at the table. There would be a place card for each person, carefully arranged. Sometimes I would let it be a total surprise and not peek at the table until we were called to dinner. Other times I made a quick circuit of the table when I arrived to satisfy my curiosity. Either way, I did not get to choose my conversation partners. Ha! Definitely spiced up the evening.
I don’t know about you, but I need a certain amount of certainty to provide stability. Too much certainty can be draining and stifling. So I also need uncertainty...just enough to stretch me and help me stay curious and open to learn and grow. As Eric Elnes says in the Gifts of the Dark Wood book, “The great saints of old did not become saints by moving from certainty to clarity, but by moving from certainty to trust.” Even small amounts of uncertainty can move us to put our trust in God. It’s no different with great uncertainty. We practice with the small things so that we are ready to trust in the big things.
Who is seated closest to you at the table?*
Well, I don’t get to decide who sits next to me at my cousin’s dinner table, which is a nice adventure, but I do get to decide which of the voices around the table in my head get to sit closest to me!
In Jesus’ day, where you sat at the table was important. The seating was arranged in such a way that the important people with status and influence sat closest to the host, well-placed for conversation. The less important people sat farther from host, out of earshot. Eric Elnes says it like this. “We are all like a walking dinner conversation, happening around our inner dinner table. A number of voices sit around our table, rarely ceasing to give their opinion about whatever decision confronts us."
How many distinct voices can you find? I don’t know about you, but I hear plenty of opinions expressed inside my head when simply choosing a restaurant to which to take our out-of-town guest, let alone the cacophony that erupts when making weightier decision like choosing a vocational direction or selecting between candidates for a job.
The voices in our head are influencing us and telling us to do this or do that and giving their opinion with abandon, often shouting, waving their arms, and talking over one another! But the voice I need right next to me is the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always has an opinion but I don’t always have the Holy Spirit closest to me at my inner table.
Elnes goes on to say. “Part of what it means to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in life’s Dark Wood is to learn how to rearrange the seating arrangement at your inner dinner table on a daily basis in order to hear the Spirit’s quiet, unassuming whispers...those inner hunches, sweet-spot moments, and subtle intuitions that gently click something into place that had been out of alignment.”
Lent is a good time to re-arrange the seating at our inner tables...to open ourselves to be more attentive to the Holy Spirit...to make room for the Holy Spirit next to us at the table or place ourselves next to the Holy Spirit at the table within ourselves.
What voice is sitting closest to you at your inner table?
~ Rev. Jan
*Excerpts are from Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elnes, chapter 1.