I was reading "Travels With Charley" by my old favorite, John Steinbeck. In this book he chronicles his journeys across the states with his dog, you guessed it, Charley. It is humorous and endearing, and in true Steinbeck fashion there were passages that left me stunned by their beauty and passages that left me stunned by their fullness.
Early into his trip, Steinbeck realizes just how lonely it will be for him, and just how desperately our human souls need one another. While camping one night and listening to the silence, save the heavy breathing of his dog, he recalls a previous journey he had taken:
I remember an old Arab in North Africa, a man whose hands had never felt water. He gave me mint tea in a glass so coated with use that it was opaque, but he handed me companionship, and the tea was wonderful because of it. And without any protection my teeth didn't fall out, nor did running sores develop. I began to formulate a new law describing the relationship of protection to despondency. A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.I read that paragraph about twelve times. I resonate with that because I have seen the beauty of relationship. I resonate with that because I have let me soul become sad out of fear of something. Or preference for something. Or judgement of something. Or lots of somethings.
While I was growing up, my dad was in law enforcement. This meant that a lot of times he had to make some house calls. Sometimes he showed up unexpected [and trust me, no tea was offered then], but other times he was summoned. And welcomed. He may not even remember this, as it was a brief story he mentioned one time casually to me, but it stuck with me and I think of it often. He shared about one of the houses he was invited into. There wasn't a clean place to sit, and his hosts were definitely not freshly showered. It was evident they were in want, and to be frank, they lived in filth. And yet they extended my uniform-clad father hospitality that day, as the lady rummaged for a mug and poured him some coffee. My dad doesn't drink coffee. He can't stand it. And from the looks of the place, the mug was definitely not clean.
At this point in the story I thought my dad was going to share with me how to get out of an awkward social situation such as this, or how to politely decline a drink you don't like. But you know what he said? "I read somewhere that the cleanest part to drink out of a used mug is by the handle." Did you catch that? He drank the coffee out of a filthy mug. NOT because his job depended on it. NOT because he was so desperate for a drink. NOT because he wanted to make a good impression. He drank the coffee out of a filthy mug because of the hand that poured it for him.
I have thought of it so many times, that simple act done in a trailer somewhere in rural Missouri. When someone offers me something I don't like, or that doesn't suit my taste, or that I may even have an adverse reaction to, I will accept it. And I will not make a face [my mom taught me that one over and over at the supper table]. And I will say thank you so much and I will mean it. Because the hand that is serving it to me is also serving companionship. And when I have a choice between protection or despondency, I will choose the person in front of me and the hope they have to offer. Because a sad soul will kill me far quicker.
And I realize this is not just about food, though I do think something deeply spiritual happens at the table. This is about the power of the person. This is about offering hands. This is about realizing we are all the least of these. This is about offering Jesus. And hope. And grace. And at that table, when we choose to pass around companionship in spite of [whatever you need to fill in this blank with], we will find deep satisfaction in our souls.