The kitchen is the place of preparation so that meals can be served not just to sustain the community and guests physically but also so that people can eat together and build friendships over food in the way people have done down the centuries. Planning is of course a vital ingredient in this process, which at Iona includes giving careful thought to ordering what is necessary from the mainland in plenty of time and making use of seasonal produce grown on the island.

Life is so much easier when I plan!  Cooking is something I do enjoy – when I have allocated proper time to it, flicked through a cook book, decided what to have a go at and have bought, or even grown, the ingredients. However, it is more common to find me frantically searching the back of the cupboard or head down in the chest freezer desperately hoping there is something ‘quick yet quality’ I can throw together.

Some people find that planning and preparation come as second nature and they wouldn’t dream of going into something unprepared. However, for others, to give particular attention to practicing, planning and preparation would literally be transformational. It is one of the most significant factors in preventing stress and increasing effective use of time.

Although I never ate in the refectory when I was at Iona it did remind me of my experience at Burford Priory when the meals were occasions of silence. This had the effect of dramatically increasing the awareness of those sitting on your table. As no-one was allowed to ask to be passed anything it became essential to be on the look out for one another’s needs – a glass of water, salt, more potatoes etc. The experience of being passed something I wanted but hadn’t asked for was strangely moving for me. Perhaps it was to do with the way that these small actions of service opened up a deeper communication without words between people in the presence of God. And how quickly I got used to it! The silence also created the opportunity to savour the food and drink in a way seldom possible when engaged in verbal conversation or more commonly in the company of the television.

Richard Foster in his classic Celebration of Discipline makes much of the discipline of service, especially ‘hidden service’ as an antidote to the excluding power of pride. It was a quality Jesus sought to demonstrate to his disciples supremely through the actions and words of the Last Supper (John 13; 1-30). However, his example was not as a servant of others, but rather as a servant to others. There is an important distinction between the two.

The Refectory then is a space where humility can grow, both through serving others and letting others serve us. As it grows we can find ourselves forgetting ourselves and truly being present to those we are with.

Possible Practices

  1. Devote half an hour on Sunday or early on a Monday to planning how you will spend the week ahead. It may be focused on one aspect such as the meals that you are responsible for or in allocating time for doing that important thing that often gets squeezed out by the urgent.
  2. In your Homegroup, or in a family group, agree to eat a meal together in silence. Share your experiences with each other afterwards about how it felt, what you thought about etc. If you usually eat on your own with the TV on at the same time, switch it off and savour every mouthful instead.
  3. Identify something you could do that would echo the action of Jesus washing the feet of his followers? Plan carefully how and when you will do that thing. Then do it! If you are proud of your ‘independence’, let someone else do something for you for a change. How did you feel when you did that? Ask yourself why you felt that way?