8085540_sThe restaurant was named Tutta Bella. The pizzas were delicious — and gluten free. That meant you could eat more and not feel too full. We had the house wine, Spanish, a little more tart than I had anticipated, but still reat. And the dessert… well… But the highlight was the conversations. They were old friends, good friends. We last saw them the last time we were in Seattle. Was it two and a half years already? But as in all good friendships, we picked up as though we had last chatted last week.

Food and friendship just go together, and at this stage of our North American trip, I have surrendered all pretences of trying to lose weight. (I had thought that with the cool Spring weather, we could work in more walks.) But we had so many friends to see, and we had come a long way to see them, and, well, food and friendship go together. In his book The Way is Made by Walking, Arthur Paul Boers reminds us of this link. (The book is a record of Boers’ five-hundred mile pilgrimage as he walked on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route in Spain.)

Some of my happiest moments in Santiago, at the end, were running into people I conversed with at the very first pilgrim’s supper. A relatively brief time at table touched and fed our hearts for many days and miles, right until the completion of our pilgrimage. It bonded us.

Meals together were one of the most significant aspects of the Camino. I often find myself recalling where and with whom I ate. I liked — often even loved — the food, but I was most grateful for the company. As Christian Pohl writes: “A shared meal is the activity most closely tied to the reality of God’s Kingdom.” No surprise, then, that so many New Testament stories — parables about banquets, feasts in homes, the Last Supper, miracle feedings — revolve around food. Twenty-five years ago, a friend named Bill told me something I still often recall: “If you can read the Gospels without getting hungry, you’re not paying attention” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007, 101-102.)

Having a good meal with good friends is a foretaste of heaven, a rehearsal and a sample of the day when we eat and drink at Jesus’s table in His kingdom (Luke 22:30). At the table with friends, we feed on food and friendship, and we need both to live. Perhaps that is why they are inextricably linked. I have often quoted Paul J Wadell who wrote: “A desire for friendship is one of our most basic and enduring inclinations, as inescapable as our need for food, drink, clothing, and shelter” (Becoming Friends, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002,111). Recent studies confirm Wadell’s claim that friendship is as crucial for life as food and drink.

In an article entitled “What Are Friends For? A Longer Life” (Health, NYTimes.com, April 20, 2009, 1-2), Tara Parker-Pope writes:

In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends.

Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk of obesity among those whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that social ties could promote brain health as we age

It is said that holidays have at least three elements: people, places, and purchases. In other words we go on holiday to meet up with friends and family; to see the sights; and/or, to shop. This is not a pure holiday. I have had a number of teaching engagements, including running a six-hour seminar. This weekend I will be facilitating a church retreat. But we have managed to squeeze in some of the three holiday elements in between work. Of the three, people have been our top priority.

We have met friends old and new. There were some friends I had not seen for twenty-five years. I wanted to see them, to thank them for the help they had rendered to me when I first came to Vancouver to pursue theological studies more than a quarter of a century ago. And we have made new friends, friendships that hold much promise to be good ones, life-giving ones. And so we have had many meals.

Over breakfast/lunch/dinner/supper, we have shared food and we have shared life with many friends. We have shared our joys and our sorrows and the things in between. We have talked and we have listened and we have reminded each other of what is true and important. No, I don’t think I will be losing any weight this holiday. Our bodies have been fed — but so have our hearts. I won’t be seeing some of these friends again anytime soon. Losing weight can wait for a while.