“The love of beauty is taste, the creation of beauty is art.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I am the bread of life,”
As I sit in the candlelight of a new morning and sip my hot tea, I reflect on the past few days. With 5 weeks of company, people have been in and out of our doors, countless meals made, cups of tea and coffee consumed. Yet the invaluable life and conversations that took place over breaking bread, I am quite sure, was life-transforming for those who were here. Love was rekindled, friendship deepened, new friends created. All over the breaking of bread and seeing Him together as our bread of life.
The celebrating of life around a table, taking time to talk, to rest, to engage could be life changing to a culture that is bent on fast food, busyness, activity and a utilitarian lifestyle. To make time for one another is to live in a humane way. If I could measure the thousands of people, the celebrated events, the myriads of conversations that have occurred at my table, it would become a book with thousands of stories to tell and pages to read. Instead, I give you a peak into this chapter where I relate the gathering of my old table before it had any Clarkson memories. Read the rest of the story in The Lifegiving Table book.
The chill air of a winter’s day breathed on my face as I stepped out onto the sidewalk next to my contemporary stucco apartment building, which stood in striking contrast to the elaborate hundred-year-old buildings on either side. I glanced up at our fifth-floor window, still bare against a gray sky. Excitement bubbled up inside as I mentally reflected on the mission I was about to undertake.
Clay and I had just moved to Austria together to work for a year at the International Church of Vienna. Married just a year before, we were excited about our first international venture together and our new little apartment (three rooms plus a kitchen). But as was common in that part of Europe, the place was starkly empty—no curtains, no closets, no furniture, no kitchen cabinets, not much but empty rooms. (We considered ourselves blessed to have a kitchen sink and a small stove with an oven.) Our first few nights I had spread a small cloth over our steamer trunks and lit a candle; we had sat on the floor for our meals. So I had begun exploring secondhand shops, bargain basements, fabric stores, and the like to find what I needed make our empty rooms into a cozy home.
Today, armed with the Austrian equivalent of about a hundred dollars in my pocket, I was out to get a dining table—somehow I knew this would be the center of life in our home. I conjured up a picture of meals savored, cups of tea and coffee, hearty discussions, life-changing Bible studies, secrets shared—all over warm-tasty treats, comforting bowls of soup, satisfying slices of bread, melted butter and pungent cheese. I could just imagine the memories we would make over the table I would find. (At that point I couldn’t even have imagined the parade of people who would eventually march through those humble rooms—diplomats from South Africa; refugees from Iran; an opera singer and her husband, who played in the Vienna Philharmonic; students eager for a home- cooked meal; many of our Austrian neighbors; and more.)
And so I boarded the squeaky tram, determined to bag my treasure but having no idea where I would find it. Two stops later I dismounted on foot and began perusing the shops along the street. A furniture store begged me to enter, but I left after five minutes, knowing I would need
to set my sights lower. I couldn’t afford even a chair in that lovely shop! I continued on my way, peering in every window shop and wandering down every crooked street, anxiously seeking the place where my table waited for me to find it.
Finally, after two hours of weary walking, my eyes lit on the dark, dusty window of a secondhand store. Through the glass I could see all sorts of knickknacks and odd pieces of furniture piled high throughout the crowded room. As I opened the creaky front door, bells jangled against the top of the door frame.
A stooped, wrinkled old man crept out from an even darker room at the back. “Ja, bitte?”
In my very limited German, I asked if I could look around to find some furniture to fill my apartment. He looked at me questioningly through thick, smudged spectacles and waved me in. My heart raced as I looked at stacks of chairs, bookshelves, dusty books, and miscellaneous items. Then, high up in a corner, I spotted four dark, round oval legs that looked like they were the base of some kind of a table.
“Was ist das?” I asked, hoping he would understand.
He then brought the legs down, went to the back room once again, and brought out a stained, mildly scarred tabletop to fit on top of the base. There it was! I just knew this could be my table.
“Wieviel kostet das?” (“How much does that cost?”) I asked, hoping for the best. It was the equivalent of fifty dollars. I was ecstatic. Maybe I could even afford some chairs. I looked up and down the aisles between piles of stacked items. And there on top of each other, at the far end of the wall, were two charming carved-wood chairs, the seats covered in bronze vinyl that looked like leather. How much, I asked again. Only thirty-five dollars—again, in my budget. How surprised Clay would be to see that we could actually sit down in real chairs to eat dinner. And we could do it that very evening. I had a friend who had promised to help me pile my finds into her small station wagon.
I hope you enjoy the podcast about this today.