Day 17 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 17

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen

Chapter 4

Good manners were very important in our family, especially table manners.
In the hall of our home hung a large bell. Ten minutes before dinner, my father rang the bell loudly and announced: “Dinnertime, everybody wash their hands.”

There were many “table sins”: elbows on the table, heaping up food on your spoon or fork, eating fast, making noises, chewing with your mouth open, not using your fork and knife while eating meat, using your knife to cut spaghetti. Many of our meals were interspersed with my father’s little commands: “Elbows off the table,” “Wait until everyone is served,” and “Don’t talk as you eat.”

As I became older, I was allowed to have a glass of wine. It was a sign of adulthood. In 1950, when I was eighteen years old, drinking wine was a luxury, In France and Italy, wine at dinner was part of daily life, but in Holland it was a sign of a festive occasion. When we had wine there were special rituals: tasting and approving the wine, saying a few good words about it, pouring it into the glasses-only half full-and, most important of all, lifting it for a toast.
No one in our family would ever drink from his or her glass before everyone had been served and my father had lifted up his glass, looked at each of us, spoken a word of welcome, and emphasized the uniqueness of the occasion. Then, with his glass he touched my mother’s glass and the glasses of his guests and drank a little. It always was a solemn and important moment, a moment with a sacred quality. In later years, when wine was no longer so special, when glasses were filled to the brim, and when people drank without lifting their glasses or offering a toast, I always felt that something was missing, yes, even that something was lost.

Lifting up the cup is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together. As we lift up the cup of life and look each other in the eye, we say: “Let’s not be anxious or afraid. Let’s hold our cup together and greet each other. Let us not hesitate to acknowledge the reality of our lives and encourage each other to be grateful for the gifts we have received.”

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