Written by Ella Roselt
Photographed by Sydnee Mela
“Encouragement is the table family feasts at.”
It is one of the greatest honours of my life to be a member of the kitchen staff team (captained by the phenomenal Martha McRae) at A Place for the Heart because the kitchen is right at the heart of the ministry. Meal times are an essential part of our everyday lives and play a crucial role in establishing our core value of family and community during the 18 Inch Journey. I grew up in a family that believed in eating meals together around the table – but I didn’t understand the full value of that simple ritual until I was much older. Because it was so normal to me, I was surprised when I discovered how rare it actually is to find families that regularly take time to eat together. I was therefore so delighted, when I first came to the 18 Inch Journey in 2011, to discover that meal times are something this family deeply values and makes time for. This is because we have received food and meal times as a good gift from our good Father, and as a family we prioritize time spent around the table together.
When our Father created us, he could have designed us so that we would need food only once a week, and perhaps even that we could get it in a simplified form; like a car being re-fueled. But in His great wisdom and kindness, that is not how He dreamed up our lives. Perhaps because He wanted us to have a daily reminder (in the form of our physical hunger) that we have a spiritual hunger that may be easier to ignore, but which it is even more important that we tend to. Gathering around the table three times a day during the 18 Inch Journey reminds us of our need, and how the Father wants to meet it.
We know only a fraction of the day-to-day life of Jesus, and yet much space is given within those limited accounts to his interactions with people over the business of meals. Take for example Jesus inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for a meal; the feeding of the five thousand; the fish breakfasts he cooked for his disciples on the beach; the last supper. Every meal was a significant time to Him, because it made space for family moments to happen, and he understood that the very act of eating together carried in seed form many truths of what life in the Father’s kingdom looks like.
Meal times are an essential part of our year-round lives at the farm (as we affectionately call our 52 acres). The kitchen is the heart of the land, and the table is the place we reconnect with each other after a full work day. It is where we gather to encourage each other, to swap stories, to share the hard things of life, to celebrate the victories. And so when students arrive for the 18 Inch Journey, and join us at a table for a meal, they are folding into a pre-established rhythm of honouring the life-giving space that a meal can provide. Meal times are always very intentional, and just as important as a teaching session or a collective time. It is important that we learn to dive into the depths with the Holy Spirit, and it is important that we learn to let Him lead us back up for a deep breath of fresh air. Laughter around the table is just as necessary as the laying on of hands.
We take great delight in the planning and serving of our school meals. As Papa Ken Helser says, “You can find God in everything and miss Him in anything,” and we have found so much of God in every part of the process; from the planting and tending of the garden and the harvesting of its bounty, to our weekly shopping trips; the planning of a great feast, to the fruition of a wonderful evening, and even in the washing up of dishes that comes later. We have seen the Father as Planner and Provider. We have learnt about His intentionality and the delight He takes in planning beautiful moments for us. We have discovered how He loves and leads us through serving us, and laying a place at the table for us. We have learnt how He helps clean up with us the messes we make as we create the dishes of our lives. Every student has the invitation and opportunity to learn these aspects of the Father too: the second phase students get to help us chop vegetables and lay tables in preparation for meals, and the first phase students take turns to help us clean up afterwards. All of it is full of delight because it is full of the nature of the Lord, and full of family.
In the physical, we never get to the point where we have eaten the one meal to end all meals. In both the physical and the spiritual, we will never progress beyond the cycle of becoming hungry and then having that hunger met. May we never stop becoming hungry for community, for the feasting on the Word, for communing with the Father.