I have eaten at least 1,000 meals alone over the last year.
I’ve had virtual dinner dates and outdoor church cookouts and several weeks’ worth of eating with my parents – which required careful quarantine and testing and was nonetheless accompanied by a low-level hum of dread that I still might manage to infect them with a deadly virus.
But most of my meals have been here in my tiny apartment, at my kitchen table, alone.
I’m usually just fine with solo dining, and most of those meals weren’t filled with agony or despair, per se. I like cooking and I like eating and breakfast always includes a devotional reading and lunch usually means an episode of some silly sitcom. But here, on Good Friday, after one thousand lonely meals, I am feeling the weight of isolation.
Yesterday was the third Love Feast in a row that we’ve missed because of COVID, and that weight descended swift and strong. It’s not just the eating, you know, it is all the rest of this lonely life. I live alone, I work from home, I am a solo pastor and the manager of a program without any other staff specifically attached to it. I have done all the healthy things: regular exercise, standing therapy appointments, connecting with friends and family in intentional ways, volunteering, chatting with my neighbors, etc., etc., etc. The pandemic exacerbated the pain of isolation that is already present in so much of our American life. I am privileged and well-loved and knit into several different communities, and it is still true that there is no other human on earth who knows or cares or participates in the mundane daily details of my life. No one else knows or cares what I ate for breakfast. And most of the time, that is just fine. And some of the time, like after 1,000 meals eaten alone, it starts to eat away at sanity and well-being.
Love Feast reminds us all that we are meant to eat together, and to show up for the mundane daily details of one another’s life, like washing dirty feet. It is the ritual celebration of what is always true: we belong to each other. So yesterday, feeling the weight of this loss, I swapped out my usual silly sitcom for the Dunker Punks Virtual Love Feast over lunch, and my frozen pizza & bubbly water became bread, sop, and communion.
I was still by myself. No one washed my feet. I did not get to break communion bread across a table or sing in four-part harmony. Until you read this blog post, no other human being on earth knew that my Love Feast lunch consisted of frozen pizza and sparkling water (carrots and peppers and a handful of jelly beans, too, for the sake of full disclosure). But watching all these people – so many of whom I know and love – share their love for this ritual that has made me who I am reminded me in a bone-deep way that I am not alone, that this thing that I am missing so fiercely is also fiercely beloved by so many others. This video includes colleagues, former ministry interns, a pastor who was licensed by my congregation, a podcast contributor whose story I got to host, a member of a congregation whose church basement I slept in during a summer mission trip, people from my hometown speaking in accents that remind me of home, and so many other beloved siblings who belong to each other, to whom I belong.
It reminded me that this ritual is so important to us that we will gather in front of sterile, flourescent computer screens the world over just for a fleeting glimpse of its power. It reminded me that even though I get so angry and frustrated at the church and its institutions, the heart of the matter is the people, and our commitment to one another.
I cried through most of that video. My frozen pizza got soggy. I could barely manage to speak the words of institution for the pepperoni bread and the Bubly cup through my choked-up throat. I am crying again, now, as I try to write about why it means so much to me, what it is that I am missing, how powerful and holy it is to be connected to one another through God’s own command and wily Spirit.
I will miss Love Feast fiercely until the pandemic subsides and we’re able to practice it again – that isn’t going to change. But I am deeply grateful, during this Holy Week, for people who can see just far enough beyond the isolation and the longing to create something beautiful and remind us why we do what we do in the first place.
“Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”