Two Tables

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Yesterday morning, I awoke to birdsong. In the still-veiled shadow of morning, vivid lyrical lines affected a brightness as stark as the vague stillness which had theretofore saturated the room. In the murmuring incomprehensibility of the sleep from which I was still emerging, the melodious sound filled the void of my consciousness, resonating into all its hidden corners. The warmth of it surprised me, revivifying the inanimate within me back into life, awakening my emotions before my intellect. I loved the beauty of it even before my mind was able to regard it as beautiful, and everything in me rang out with an ardent yes, a sonic obedience to to the trueness of that morning music. A simple feast of quietude and gentleness was laid before me, waiting for me to partake.

I cracked my eyes just enough to let them encounter the dimmed sight gathered within my room. On the wall opposite the window, narrow filaments of light stacked one on top of the other in a neat pile of perfect parallels, a platonic vision giving testimony to the gathering dawn behind me. As if catalysing the disorder of my mind, the lines began to refract into my own consciousness, drawing me into full wakefulness, and with it, all the renewed awareness of reality and its impatient host. Each unwelcome mental houseguest bumbled into my mind, carrying with them the food of worry and despair, inadequacy and fear and confusion. The aroma of each of them rose up in a robust challenge, rich and hypnotising in their appeal.

Before me these two tables bid me come and eat. The one, a decadent meal of self-pity and self-indulgence, an all-you-can-eat buffet of every fear-ridden vice imaginable, available in endless amounts which could be consumed voraciously and never satiate; the other, a wholesome meal of meagre means which nonetheless could always satisfy enough to carry me forward for just as long as I might need it.

Always these two meals are before me; every day I face two tables. I am given the opportunity to dine with my enemies, or with my Lord in the presence of them. Always those fiends of old wait in the shadows with their fare of fearfulness; it is never a matter of not seeing them, but rather, whether I make them my company and sit beside them.

My Lord also sets his table with intentionality. Its nourishment is always near at hand; present in the stillness of hidden treasures, waiting to be sought out. In the freshness of nature and the wash of colour and sound and shape, it can be apprehended. In wind and the rush of seawater, amidst the crunch of gravel underfoot, in the scent of honeysuckle and rain, or the taste of freshly-baked bread and butter.

In birdsong.

In his poem God’s Grandeur, G. M. Hopkins knows this as well as anyone. He recognises the oppressive intrusion of humanity’s own self-afflicting ‘smudge’ and ‘smell,’ how the soil, the very earth tantalisingly filled with God’s presence, is ‘bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.’

And yet, somehow, the final lines of the sonnet overcome that stripping of the earth of God’s presence, revealing how its presence is deeper in the earth, in still, quiet aquifers of lifegiving waters:

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

Into Hopkin’s morning, and into mine, and into yours, the Holy Spirit sings, ‘broods,’ in a song of life, bringing the food of peace to us. Will we partake? Will we allow ourselves to be nourished by those deepest down waters?

Amidst discord of those two competing themes, I sang my prayer, taking up the melody of the birdsong and flinging it defiantly at the spectre of my fear. While the shadow of it remained, mocking me, its voice was muted and and its light dimmed.

In tranquility, I sat with my Lord, and ate.

____________

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Just a couple of days ago, my mother, Sally Clarkson, released her newest book, The Lifegiving Table. A work of profound and awakening goodness, it is a veritable feast of God’s grace in written form. What I know of goodness of God’s table was made real to me in the countless meals served at my mother’s table. If you long to be fed by Jesus and long to feed others both in body and spirit in your own life, I encourage you to go pick up a copy of your own and enter into the feast into which God invites each of us.

May you each be blessed and may you sit at the table of the Lord today!

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