Richard Rohr Meditation: The Shape of the Table

In Jesus’ time, the dominant institution was the kinship system: the family, the private home. That’s why early Christians gathered in house churches, much different from the typical parish today. In Matthew’s Gospel the word house is used many times. Jesus is always going in and out of houses (as in 8:14, 9:10). What happened around the tables in those houses shaped and named the social order. Table friendship ends up defining how we see friendship in general.

Jesus often used domestic settings to rearrange the social order. Nowhere was that truer than with the meal—with whom, where, and what he ate. This is still true today, more than we might imagine. (Another example of Jesus changing the social order is in the relationship between employers and workers.) Jesus’ constant use of table relationships is perhaps his most central re-ritualization of what family means. Note that he is always trying to broaden the circle (see Luke 14:7-24 for three good examples). Jesus brought this all to fullness in his “last supper” with “the twelve.” This was not to emphasize male fellowship, but the full quorum of the twelve tribes of Israel.

.. Jesus didn’t want his community to have a social ethic; he wanted it to be a social ethic. Their very way of eating and organizing themselves was to be an affront to the system of dominance and power. They were to live in a new symbolic universe, especially symbolized by what we now call open table fellowship.

In all cultures, sharing food is a complex interaction that symbolizes social relationships and defines social boundaries almost more than any other daily event. Whom you eat with defines whom you don’t eat with. Certain groups of people eat certain kinds of food. Through our choices and behavior at table, we name and identify ourselves.

.. This might seem like an unfair example to some, but today a vegetarian (or even vegan) diet has become a conscious choice for many because they’ve studied the politics of food: who eats meat and who can’t eat meat; what eating meat is doing not only to our health but even to the planet. Researchers surmise that the meat-heavy Western diet contributes to one-fifth of global emissions on our planet. [2] Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

As a spiritual family and a human family, we can all help avert climate change with the practice of mindful eating. Going vegetarian may be the most effective way to stop climate change. [3] 

Leonard Cohen’s Life of Poetry and Song

If there is any lyric that condenses his work it is, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

.. Petrified, he told his lawyer he couldn’t sing, but his friend shot back that “none of you guys can sing, if I wanna hear singing I’ll go to the Metropolitan Opera!”

.. “Hallelujah” had been released originally in 1984 on his Various Positions album, but with only lukewarm support from his record label, CBS. Years later, when Cohen accepted an award, he thanked CBS with trademark irony for “the modesty of their interest” in his work.

.. A Palestinian boycott group stated, “Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel’s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel.”

.. Given the spiritual and deep theological tenor of his work, it is perhaps surprising he became such a star, and had it not been for “Hallelujah” he may have remained an acquired taste.

.. His work was genuinely and deeply rooted in being a Jew and in the traditional Jewish texts, Psalms, mysticism, and practice, and he directly employed biblical texts. “Hallelujah” is a prime example, where his lyrics juxtapose the texts of 1 and 2 Samuel and Judges 16, while the refrain of Hallelujah rings out:

.. He became a vegetarian, but said he stopped because he decided he was getting too arrogant about it.

.. In his last public appearance Cohen explained he didn’t consider himself a religious person but made use of the frames of reference of his upbringing.

This echoed a New York Times interview in 1968, in which he said, “Our natural vocabulary is Judeo-Christian. That is our blood-myth. We have to rediscover law from inside our own heritage, and we have to rediscover the crucifixion. The crucifixion will again be understood as a universal symbol, not as an experiment in sadism or masochism or arrogance. It will have to be rediscovered because that’s where man is at. On the cross.” This was his credo.

.. in Isaiah 53, a chapter central to the Christian idea of Isaiah as the “fifth gospel,” attesting to the suffering servant.

.. In his final interview, Cohen said he was still hearing the voice of God, but now it was different. He said it was no longer the judging God of his youth, “that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’” This was a compassionate God, giving a tremendous blessing. He said, “I’m ready to die, I hope it’s not uncomfortable,” and he spent his last days putting his house in order.

.. Cohen took years to write a song, Dylan often took just 15 minutes. The difference was that Dylan was a songwriter, while Cohen started as a poet and novelist—though in a 1961 interview Cohen contested the term “poet”; he said he was a writer, and the exalted term “poet” should only be applied at the end of a writer’s work, as a verdict on his life.