Dinner Parties for Widows and Millennials – An All Soul’s Day Reflection

When you hear the word widow, what do you think of? Old ladies, spiders, the city of Nain, two copper pennies? Well, Amelia Nierenberg, a food writer for the New York Times, thinks of dinner! It is not as big a leap as it may seem. The idea that food soothes grief runs deep. It is the reason why once a death becomes public friends and neighbors start showing up with trays of lasagna.

Yet, in her article, For Many Widows, the Hardest Part Is Mealtime, Niereberg learns that grief is often heightened around mealtimes. “It’s simple things like, ‘What do you want for dinner?’” said Pat Smith, 60. “And it’s like, ‘I don’t know. What do I want for dinner?’” Ms. Zawadzki agreed: “You don’t have somebody to bounce your ideas off anymore.” “And then you think to yourself,” Ms. Kantak said, “‘How do you not know what you want for dinner?’” She paused. “But that’s something the two of you would have decided together.”

The article goes on to explain how non-profits like, “Culinary Grief Therapy, which uses demonstrations and group discussions over meals to teach participants how to cook, eat and shop for one, alongside other widows” have responded to this issue.

But widows and widowers aren’t the only ones whose grief is softened by group meals. The Dinner Party, an organization that has expanded in more than 100 cities is building a worldwide community of 20- and 30-somethings who have each experienced the loss of a parent, partner, child, sibling, other close family member, or close friend. Their motto is: We know what it’s like to lose someone and we aren’t afraid to talk about it.

The grieving don’t always come to mind when I think of our Franciscan commitment to serve the poor and disenfranchised, but reading this article on All Soul’s Day, a day we especially remember the dead, reminds me also of those left behind, and of this bible passage “…the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled…” Deuteronomy 14:29

Individual Reflection Questions:

  1. How do I respond to other’s losses?
  2. Is it helpful to talk about those I’ve lost, or do I prefer not to?

Ministry Reflection Questions:

  1. How does our ministry respond to the losses of those we work with?
  2. How does our ministry respond to the grieving among those we serve?
  3. What have we observed about the relationship between meals and mourning?
Is Bill Gates’ Daughter a Franciscan?

Netflix is currently airing a three-part series on Bill Gates. It provides a great glimpse into a complicated man, his personal journey and his impact on society. At one point in the show, Bill describes becoming aware of the horrible physical, economic and social consequences polio has on the people who contract it. Though polio has been largely eliminated in the west, it is still prevalent in many parts of the world.  Reflecting on this, he decides that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose slogan is “All Lives Are Equal. We are impatient optimists working to reduce inequality,” will focus its resources on eradicating polio.

Excited about his audacious plan, Bill shows his daughter a video of a young girl with polio and explains that in the future no one will have to suffer the way she is. In response, his daughter asked, “But what are you doing for that girl?”  “We are going to eradicate the disease,” he says with great enthusiasm. “Yes, but what are you doing for that girl,” she asked again.

It can be argued that Bill’s response to polio represents the best of capitalism, creativity and the allocation of personal resources for the greater good. As Franciscans, we applaud the good in the approach. However, our Franciscan sensibilities are better expressed by Gates’ daughter.

While people like Bill Gates focus on the general—on the thousands affected by a terrible disease—we, like his daughter, are drawn to the particular, to the individuals with the disease. Rather than wonder, how can we eradicate a disease, we wonder, who is this person? What is her name? What are her individual needs, her particular personality, and her unique circumstances? What can we do for her?


Individual Reflection Questions:

  1. Are you more drawn to the lawn (general) or to an individual blade of grass (particular)? To the class (general) or to the student (particular)?
  2. Accepting that both approaches are good, what are the pros and cons of the one you tend toward?


Ministry Reflection Questions:

  1. What are the ways your ministry focus’ on each particular individual you serve?
  2. What are the ways your ministry acknowledges the particular gifts and preferences of staff members?
  3. Can you recall times when you had to choose between giving attention to an individual you serve or to running an effective and efficient group meeting or program? Which did you choose? What was the outcome? How do you feel about the choice now?


October 2020

For more reflections click here.

Reflection: Serving Others as Brothers and Sisters

September 2019

The centerpiece of our Franciscan ministry is the Gospel and its call to be disciples of Christ by serving others, especially the poor, the forgotten, and the marginalized. ~ Franciscan Leadership Guide

You probably know who painted at least one of these paintings, even though you may have never seen them before. How? What makes it obvious to you? Style, composition, colors. All these elements come together to reflect their creator.

St Francis understood that that is true of God too. As he looked upon creation, he saw in each person, rock, donkey, mountain and sunset, a reflection of their Creator. When Francis walked down the street, before he recognized someone by their name, Thomas, or their occupation, baker, or their socio-economic status, rich, he recognized them as God’s creation, just as you may have recognized one of these paintings by its creator. He especially recognized God in the poor and forgotten and marginalized.

As creations of God, Francis realized that we are all brother and sister to one another. This idea of being family extended beyond humans. It included sister moon and brother sun; each mineral, animal and mountain is a brother or sister to us.

Francis understood God through the natural world – sometimes referred to as the “book of nature.” Another book that informed his understanding of God and our relationship with the poor, was the Gospels in the bible. At a time when many saw the poor or marginalized as “deserving” of their bad fortune, Francis saw each as brother or sister. He followed Christ’s example of touching the leper, serving the weak, consoling those in grief just as we would with any family member or relation.

Individual Reflection Questions:
Who do I see as brother and sister?
Do I know people who are poor, forgotten or disliked? How do I feel about them?
How does the gospel, and Jesus’ example of serving others, influence how I serve those on the margins?

Group Reflection Questions:
Who does our ministry serve as brother and sister?
Who don’t we serve or treat as brother and sister?
Does our ministry use both the book of nature and the books of the gospels to lead us?


September 2019

For more reflections click here.