When Joan and I were first married, we needed a kitchen table but couldn’t afford one, so I went to the lumberyard, bought some wood, and made one. We ate on it for years, until I needed a table for my office, which is where it is now, stacked with books and papers. If we were a fancy church with a screen and projector, I’d show you a picture of it. But since we’re not, you’ll just have to take my word that this table is not a figment of my imagination, which I do admit can be lively.
When I made the table, I never realized the role it would play in our lives. On that table, we planned vacations, dyed Easter eggs, solved crossword puzzles, chatted with neighbors, read and wrote letters to the editor, sorted and folded laundry, tied fishing lures, paid bills, cleaned rifles, had arguments, made peace, constructed science fair projects, played board games, discussed politics and religion, rolled out pie crusts and Play-Doh, cut fabric, sewed clothes, painted pictures, taught our children, and were taught by our children. Oh, yes, we also ate on it. Thousands of meals.
I know Jesus said we should take no thought for what we should eat or wear, so presumably also believed we should give no thought to what we should eat on, but I must confess I’ve given our kitchen table a great deal of thought.
A few years ago, I was in New York City, and went to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue. I’d always been told it was a holy place and that when I walked in the cathedral I’d feel the presence of God. So I walked in. I will admit to being impressed, but that was the extent of it. I didn’t speak in tongues or hear the angels sing. In fact, when I stood in St. Patrick’s that Scripture verse from the books of Acts (7:47) came to mind, that God does not dwell in houses made with human hands. You remember that story, don’t you? King Solomon decided to build a great temple, a house for God, if you will. And God said, “Do what you want, but I’m not going to live there. Heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?”
Now who was Solomon really building that house for? And when St. Patrick’s was built, who was it really built for? And when one of the finest Quaker meetinghouses in the world, Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia, was built in 1803, who was it really built for? Not I’m not knocking all those places. They’re lovely places and it’s good to have beautiful buildings we can visit to think high and noble thoughts. I enjoy sitting in this lovely place with all of you each week.
But don’t you ever wonder whether the reason we built all those places was so we could tell God where to stay?
I have a friend whose father-in-law came to live with he and his wife. First, the father-in-law lived in their house, which drove my friend crazy, because he was always around, always underfoot, always putting his two cents in. So my friend built an apartment onto his garage and had his father-in-law move in there. Except his father-in-law prefers sitting by the woodstove in their house, so it backfired.
We humans have a long history of telling folks where they can live—we told natives to live on reservations, we told blacks to live in the slums, we told Jewish people to live in their ghettos, we told Hispanics to live south of the Rio Grande, we told college students to live in debt, and now we’re telling schoolchildren they have to live in fear. So it was only natural we told God where to live. To which God said, “Heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?”
God lives where God wants, and lately I’ve been finding God at my kitchen table, right in the middle of my life, butting in, just like a father-in-law. It’s like I married God’s daughter, and now God has set up shop at my kitchen table and can’t be moved. Even though I gave considerable money for God to stay here in this lovely meetinghouse, God seems to prefer my kitchen table, right in the middle of everything, right in the center of my life.
I bet God did the same to you.
It’s awkward. Just the other day, I was reading the newspaper about something Donald Trump had done and I started mumbling about him under my breath, then above my breath, which was a mistake, because then God heard me–it was breakfast time and he was drinking coffee right across the table from me–and God said, “What’s that you said about your brother Donald?”
Now I’ll be honest, I did not care for that one bit, and I almost said something to God about it, but then I remembered when my brother was up visiting a few months ago and he said some bad things about Hillary Clinton, right there at my kitchen table, we were eating supper, and God was there, because the next thing I knew God said to my brother, “What’s that you said about your sister Hillary?”
So it’s awkward for everybody. We want to be ourselves and do what we want and say what we want, but just as soon as we do, God pipes up and says something. Like just this week, I saw a beautiful motorcycle for sale on Craigslist, a 1959 BSA made in England, at a ridiculously low price. It would have been a sin not to buy it. So sitting at our kitchen table that evening I mentioned it to Joan and God, who I had forgotten was there, said, “Take no thought for what you should ride.” Well, that made me think how many times in my life I’ve bought things thinking they would make me happy, and how it’s never quite worked out.
We’ve made all these beautiful places for God to live. We even called them houses of God, hoping he would get the hint, but it turns out God prefers our kitchen tables. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know that I’m ready for such intimacy. I don’t know that I’m ready for God to know everything about me. Or have such a say in my life. To be honest, I’ve spent 57 years acquiring a finely honed sense of privilege and prejudice, and I somewhat resent having them challenged. So I’m not sure how this is going to turn out. I don’t think God’s going away anytime soon. Just yesterday he said, “Lo, I am always with you.”
I said, “I know, I know.”
So there God resides, at the very center of our lives, and what in God’s name are we going to do about it?
The early Quakers were much more eloquent than I. They asked one another this ancient query: “Do you strive for the constant realization of God’s presence in your life?”