The train would roll into town in the wee hours of the morning. After a summer away, we were, with a sense of both relief and exhaustion, returning home. Home was an apartment building/guesthouse on a campus in the northeast of China. The school would use our apartments during the summer, so all the bits and pieces of home were packed away and locked in one room during our summer absence.
Jet lag and the early hour meant most of the team would immediately crawl into bed upon our return, but the sight of home after two months away was always enough to energize me. I would spring into action, hanging a few things on the wall, dragging out a few pieces of furniture, and adding those personal touches that made the apartment my place.
Then I would head out to the small grocery store a couple minutes walk from the apartment building, grab a few staples, and return home to cook up breakfast. Around this time people were starting to emerge from their slumber, and they knew to pop into my place for a bit of sustenance. Stories of summer were swapped while warm muffins were munched, and then people headed out to the business of setting up their own homes. It was a yearly tradition that marked the start of a new year.
I was raised in a family that showed love through food, and by parents who never saw food prep as laborious or a waste of time. Cooking up big meals for people was just what you did—it was a joy, not a burden. Moving to a foreign land where ingredients were missing, there was only cold water in the sink, and appliances were a toaster oven and two burners certainly stretched and challenged my ideas of hospitality.
I was asked to write on cooking and hospitality as a single. I kept stumbling on “cooking for one” because, to be honest, I did so much cooking not for one. If it was a large recipe I didn’t adapt it, I just invited people over.
I was determined to see the gift continue to be exercised. I firmly believed—and still believe—the table can be holy ground. Have you ever noticed how many vital events of the Great Story happen around the table? Scripture begins with a meal gone wrong, and ends with a wedding feast where all is made right. I believe there is the potential for the dinner table to be a place of grace, sustenance, and communion—both in the spiritual and physical realm.
Sustenance is defined as “the means of sustaining life, nourishment, the means of livelihood.” Living as a single in a foreign land, I found the dinner table to be one of the most important places for sustaining life and livelihood. There were times when, instead of seeking out others, it was so much easier to just grab a quick takeout meal from a small restaurant in the market and to sit down in front of a favorite TV show or movie. There was nothing inherently wrong with this routine, and sure enough, it physically sustained life. However, this routine did not always do much to sustain my soul.
And so I made the effort to routinely invite others to my table—albeit a rickety folding table borrowed from the neighbors and surrounded by plastic stools that sometimes collapsed unexpectedly. It was around that table that I had the privilege of witnessing my own and others’ lives be transformed as we fed on both bread from my oven and the Bread of Life.
When it comes down to it, you don’t need to be Martha Stewart or Julia Child to practice hospitality. In fact, if the idea of hand washing a mound of dishes after hours of cooking makes you cringe, go ahead and stop by the market to pick up a meal. Just invite someone to share it with you. If nothing else, it’s good practice for the feast to come.
What has helped sustain you?