Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 815)
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” (Proverbs 9:1-6 ESV)
One of my favorite things to do, and something I do often (at least a couple of times most weeks), is to host a dinner party. Our house is small, but we have made it our mission to always have room for “one more” at our table. Our dream is to have a dining room and table that can comfortably seat twenty, but for now, we make due with a table for eight plus an additional folding table that can be placed at the end for four more. We don’t always fill the table—often, the party is our family of five plus two or three people—but we love inviting others to join us around our table for a meal. We tag-team putting the kids to bed, often involving our guests in reading bedtime books. Then we linger with the adults over dessert or another pour of wine.
The meal I serve is rarely fussy. It’s often something I prepare the night before, or earlier in the day during naps, when I can enjoy the process of meal preparation—chopping vegetables, searing meat, boiling bones and peelings and scraps for stock. It’s often done in a crock pot, or baked in the oven so that it can be prepared and cooking independently when guests arrive. I keep things very simple and fairly inexpensive, often using bagged salad kits, frozen bread rolls, and a very uncomplicated dessert of ice cream, topped with fresh fruit and artfully drizzled with chocolate syrup. The meal is usually served “family style” on beautiful serving plates and dishes, some of which were gifts and some of which came from Goodwill. I use cloth napkins and napkin rings that have a space for each person’s name so that guests know where to sit (and so they don’t end up surrounded on all sides by our children)—simple ways to make the meal seem special. (That said, I have experienced beautiful hospitality from meals served on paper plates as well—the dinnerware is not nearly as important as the spirit of love that is present!) My goal is to be a relaxed host when my guests arrive so that I can be with them while they are here. We have even recently rearranged our main living space, swapping the dining and living areas, to accommodate this goal: to have meaningful connections… to foster, in the deepest sense of the word, philadelphia.
Imagine my surprise when I began studying this passage last week and it dawned on me that my work of preparing and hosting dinner parties aligns me with God as much as any other work or ministry I could perform. I have never contemplated Wisdom as much as I am now, with fifty-two weeks of my life dedicated to Her, which could be why this week’s passage—Proverbs 9—took me by surprise. It’s the first time I considered God as Homemaker.
I can’t believe, as I study this passage, that I have never heard God referred to as a Homemaker. I have never sat under a pastor who preached on this aspect of God’s identity, never heard a sermon series on “God the Homemaker,” and that is astounding to me because it’s explicit: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table.” This is my work! This is what I am devoted to! In the quiet of my house, while children are napping, I am tidying up and making preparations. OK, I buy my meat already slaughtered, and the wine I serve comes in bottles. But this week, with joy that brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat, I realized that my work as a homemaker and dinner host is as much a reflection of God’s identity as any other title or role I could perform.
For the record, let me be clear: I was not feeling “less than” or like I needed some sort of affirmation of my calling. I have believed for some time that the vocation of homemaker is a noble and worthy calling. But I just never realized that it’s right there in Scripture—not that being a homemaker is a good thing for a woman to be (like the Proverbs 31 woman), but being a homemaker is who God is. God is Creator, Redeemer, Physician, Savior, Father, and Homemaker.
The commentator Matthew Henry calls Wisdom here “a magnificent and munificent (exceedingly generous) queen.” In glory and grandeur, God Created the world, and in grace and goodness, God redeems the world. She builds Her house, She sets Her table, and She extends a munificent (I just love that word!) invitation to all, “Whoever is simple (or foolish), let him turn in to my driveway! Come! Eat my food and drink my wine! Leave your simple (foolish) ways and live, and walk in the way of insight (or wisdom).”
# # #
Something happens when we gather around the table. Relationships are built and strengthened. Stories are shared. Vulnerabilities are exposed. We have hosted (and been hosted by) people from church for lunch or dinner, and in an hour around the table, we have learned more about each other than we ever could have in a year of casual conversation on our way out the door after the service. Same with many of our neighbors.
Wisdom teaches us that, if we are going to really know one another, opportunities for intimate interactions must be intentional.
A few weeks ago, I heard an interview on our local NPR station’s broadcast of “The Takeaway.” John Hockenberry was interviewing Anne Fischel, the director of The Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project. I was glued to the station as she described how her research confirmed what many already believe: sharing a meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. According to their web site’s FAQ page:
“Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?”
Gathering together around a table for a meal is good for us. It is life-giving. It is formative. And God as Wisdom reflects the loving character of homemaker, hosting meals meant to set the stage for beautiful life to take shape in all who come. We invite friends and acquaintances to share our table. We include them in our prayers. We involve them in our Advent devotionals. We learn their stories.
Embodying God’s wisdom means embodying God’s hospitality—exceedingly generous, open to all, eager to serve. And this is hard for many people, because to invite someone in to our homes is a way of making ourselves vulnerable. They will know us more deeply—the dust on our mantles, the mildew in our tubs, the way we discipline our kids in real-time (always vulnerable to critique!) But who yearn to follow God’s example are called to this. And I have learned that when I make myself vulnerable, it gives others permission to be vulnerable to. As we open ourselves up to one another, incredible grace flows down.
Have you ever considered just how generously intimate God is? Have you felt the invitation to enter in to this kind of relationship with God? This is not meeting up at Starbucks, where we will pay for our order and be served by someone who has no investment in us whatsoever. We are invited to Her house, where She has cooked for us. We are seated at Her table, in Her home, eating from Her dishes (which She herself will wash after we leave). And Her greatest desire for us, Her hope in our coming, is that as we sit at Her table, we will be infused with Her wisdom and insight, and that we will live.
More than anything, I hope the primary application for us is that we will say “yes!” and “thank you!” to Her invitation. That we will show up at Her table, that we will feast on Her bread and wine, that we will bask in Her presence and trade our human foolishness for Her divine Wisdom.
But the secondary application for us is this: that we will embody Her essence as we extend hospitality to others. That, like Wisdom Herself, we will give ourselves to the vocation of preparing a table—a table where all are welcome and life-giving hospitality flows, carrying love and grace and healing to all who gather there.