Chapters 1 & 2:
It was with surprise that I discovered the “magical” components of Miriam Weinstein’s book. She has a gift in using words that not only convey a specific message, but rewards us with an image in her play on words. The research she has gathered with different peoples will be holding my attention as she writes of her experiences regarding family meals.
It was significant to read that the word in Roman times for, “one who breaks bread with you,” is companion. For thousands of years, those that break bread with you are family members. What an appropriate word. When we sit down to eat with our families, we are fortifying bonds with our “companions,” who, we hope, love and care about one each other.
Weinstein’s recognizes that there has been a rapid decline in family dinners, which is fraying the social fabric of our world. The “enormity of the potential loss” of history forecasts a nation of people with no communal bonding. The sacred nature of meal time has been diminished to a “drive-thru” experience for family members.
As Weinstein shared what she was working on, people immediately responded with detailed descriptions of their memories. When reading this, I too felt myself going through my mind, the ritual of what transpired in my home. However, in today’s world, especially my children’s generation, there are few memories of sitting down to “break bread” with one another.
With a nation of traditional and dysfunctional families, the family meal provides not only nourishment for the body, but an opportunity for face-to-face nourishment. It is part of the day that can help restore and heal, and “reinforce pleasurable associations.” A sacred time of day that needs to be fought for.
For a time in California, our church leaders sent out a “decree,” that there were to be no meetings or activities between five and six in the evening. This was a sacred time, where families could enjoy one another without interruptions. It was a successful venture, where many families that made a habit of it were strengthened.
During these rituals of breaking bread with one another, a sense of belonging and learning who you are immerge. Weinstein describes the ritual in which “a meal together draws a line around us.” It defines who we are despite the world moving around us. I remember times in my home when my parents would share family stories at dinnertime. They helped develop who I am as I listened about the strength of character of grandparents and other family members.
When family therapists want to understand a family’s dynamics, they use “snapshots” of different family functions. The most telling of these functions is the family meal. Here one is able to observe the “pecking” order! These counselors use family meals as a way to “help fractured families heal.”
Creating a ritual of a family meal can be hard when it hasn’t been established. When I had children at home, and an invitation was offered to my children’s friends – it was always accepted. But never once did I ask if these friends had meals together with their families. However, these friends always lingered longer, and were hesitant to leave. Unknowingly we helped “set the table” for a future ritual.
I agree with Weinstein’s observations that rituals are powerful tools, especially the family meal. As a family, with little children, meals were sacred. We didn’t have to be dressed up, we had no candles, nor beautiful white napkins, but we all were there. We thanked the Lord for our blessings, and went about breaking bread and creating magical moments with our children.