Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant
One work of fiction that captures the agonizing alienation in our culture is Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. This American writer has a genius that is expressed by focusing on ordinary people, all of whom seem to have attachment issues. The book explores the relationships of the Tull family; the mother, Pearl, abandoned by her husband Beck Tull; the sons, Cody and Ezra; and the daughter Jenny.
The organizing metaphor in the book is Ezra Tull's Homesick Restaurant. The dilemma of a family who can never make it through one meal is captured in this reflection by Cody, the eldest son:
"Hadn't Ezra noticed that the family as a whole had never yet finished one of his dinners? That they'd fight and stamp off halfway through, or sometimes not even manage to get seated in the first place? Well, of course he must have noticed, but was it clear to him as a pattern, a theme? No, perhaps he viewed each dinner as a unit in itself, unconnected to the others. Maybe he never linked them in his mind.
"Assuming he was a total idiot.
"It was true that once--to celebrate Cody's new business--they had made it all the way to dessert; so if they hadn't ordered dessert you could say they'd completed the meal. But the fact was, they did order dessert, which was left to sag on the plates when their mother accused Cody of deliberately setting up shop as far from home as possible. There was a stiff-backed little quarrel. Conversation fell apart. Cody walked out. So technically, even that meal could not be considered finished. Why did Ezra go on trying?
"Why did the rest of them go on showing up, was more to the point?"
The brilliance of Anne Tyler's work (John Updike once called her "wickedly good") is that this metaphor of people who can never finish a meal together in the Homesick Restaurant is not only the picture of a dysfunctional family, it has a broader application to a whole society that is increasingly separated from knowing how to create meaningful connections with each other.
In a recent article by Janet Kornblum, USA Today reported that Americans have one-third fewer close friends and confidants than just two decades ago. This is something of a seismic shift. "You usually don't see that kind of big social change in a couple of decades," reports Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of sociology at Duke University, Durham, N.C., and co-author of the study reported in American Sociological Review.
In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to him or her. By 2004, that number had dropped to two confidants, and the findings determined that consequently, 25% of Americans have no one in whom to confide.
Smith-Lovin explains, "Close relationships are a safety net. Whether it's picking up a child or finding someone to help you out of the city in a hurricane, these are people we depend on."
The USA Today article makes the point that research has linked social isolation and loneliness to mental and physical illness. If that is the case, can we not also conclude that our mental and physical (and spiritual) health improves when we are socially connected and not living in isolating environments?
In 1967 I wrote a book, one of the first of its kind, I believe, that developed a theology of hospitality. Open Heart, Open Home has sold more than 600,000 copies and is still in print (InterVarsity Press). I believe — indeed, am even more convinced — that scriptural hospitality is an antidote to alienation. It is a sure-cure for spiritual homesickness. It is a tool that, when practiced in the family (learning how to stay at the table with each other), can create a sense of profound welcome and acceptance. It is a tool that, when regularly and intentionally practiced in the church, is guaranteed to effect assimilation of the members as well as the creation of community. It is a tool that, when practiced in the neighborhood, results in neighborly connections. Believe me when I say that today, in this disconnected society, just inviting people for dinner (then using deep-listening questions like those we are developing in the Hungry Souls Listening Groups) is an evangelistic act. Hospitality can (and does) heal the lonely soul.
So why are we not using this powerful spiritual tool — in our families, in our churches, in the world around us? Why is this ancient spiritual practice falling into disuse? Aren't there many of us who, longing for significant connection, cry like Ezra Tull, "Please! Please. For once, I want this family to finish a meal together. Why, every dinner we've ever had, something has gone wrong. Someone has left in a huff, or in tears, everything's fallen apart..."
In the next months, I want to revisit the concept of hospitality. God has given me one of those Grand Ideas, and I am going to need help to pull it off. I'm hoping some of you may want to be on my Grand Idea team. But first, we need a little time (and a few Soulish Foods) to recapture the beauty of this spiritual practice, its relationship to the inner journey, and the high value God places on having an open heart and an open home.
Annual Advent Women's Retreat of Silence
Tuesday, December 4 - Wednesday, December 5, 2007.
Has anyone ever given you the gift of silence?
Every year at the start of the new church calendar (at Advent, the four weeks before Christmas), we provide a guided experience in silence. This is a beginning in time; a time to be still, to quiet yourself, to turn your heart toward God, to receive the gift of being before the onrush of the holidays and of the New Year.
Have you ever given yourself the gift of silence?
Sibyl Towner and Valerie Bell will be retreat leaders. More details to follow. Cost is $95; checks can be made out to Hungry Souls and mailed to our registrar, Melodee Cook, 18N184 Hidden Hills Trail, West Dundee, IL 60118. To register, contact her via e-mail at . Or call Susan Hands at our office: 630-293-4500. I would like to have as many as possible registered by November 15!
Have you ever given the gift of silence to someone else?
If you would like to send an e-flyer about the Advent Retreat of Silence to a friend, just download this PDF flyer and forward it by e-mail attachment or print it to post on a bulletin board or hand out to friends.
The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted each week on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the weekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
Believe me when I say that today, in this disconnected society, just inviting people for dinner ... is an evangelistic act. Hospitality can (and does) heal the lonely soul.
Pearl Tull is nearing the end of her life but not her memory. Ever since 1944 when her husband left her, she has raised her three very different children on her own. Now grown, they have gathered together — with anger, with hope, and with a beautiful, harsh and dazzling story to tell.