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At Table

Leonardo Boff


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Table fellowship means eating and drinking together around the same table. This is one of the most ancient signs of human intimacy, since the relationships that sustain the family are built and rebuilt continuously through it.

The table, before being a piece of furniture, marks an existential experience and a rite. It is the foremost place of the family, of communion and kinship. Meals are shared; there is the joy of gathering, of well-being without pretense, and of direct communion, which translates into uncensored commentary on daily activities and local, national, and international news.

A meal is more than just something material. It is the sacrament of reunion and communion. The food is appreciated and is the object of praise. The greatest joy of the cook is to note the satisfaction of the diners.

But we should recognize that the table is also a place of tensions and conflicts, where matters are debated openly, where differences are spelled out and agreements can be established, where disturbing silences also exist that reveal a collective malaise. Contemporary culture has so changed the sense of daily time as a result of work and productivity that it has weakened the symbolic sense of the table. This has been set aside for Sundays or special moments such as birthdays or anniversaries when family members and friends get together. But, as a general rule, it has ceased to be the fixed point of convergence of the family. Unfortunately, the table has been substituted by fast food, a quick meal that makes nutrition possible but not table fellowship.

Table fellowship is so crucial that it is linked to the very essence of the human being as human. … Ethno-biologists and archaeologists call our attention to an interesting fact: when our anthropoid ancestors went out to gather fruit and seeds, to hunt and to fish, they did not eat individually what they were able to collect. They took the food and brought it to the group. And thus they practiced table fellowship – distributing the food among themselves and eating as a group.

Therefore, table fellowship, which assumes solidarity and cooperation with one another, enabled the first leap from animality to humanity. It was only a beginning step, but a decisive one, because it initiated a basic characteristic of the human species that sets it apart from most other species – table fellowship, solidarity, and cooperation in the act of eating. And that small distinction makes all the difference.

That table fellowship that made us human yesterday continues to renew us as human beings today. Therefore it is important to set aside time for the meal in its full meaning of table fellowship and free and disinterested conversation. It is one of the permanent sources of renewal for today’s anemic humanity.

From Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People chapter forty-two.

Leonardo Boff, “Table Fellowship: Rebuilding Humanity,” trans. Anne Fullerton, April 18, 2008,

Photograph by Noel Williams.

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Contributed By Leonardo Boff

The author, born in 1938, is a Brazilian priest, activist, and liberation theologian.