Editor’s note: This post is one in a series inspired by Joe Paprocki’s book 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness. In the book, Joe introduces each key with a fun or thought-provoking question. Each Friday we’ll share an excerpt from 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness that poses a question, followed by a response by a catechist or catechetical leader.
What gives you heartburn?
I’m not talking about the bad kind of heartburn. I know all about that kind of heartburn. I grew up as the son of a pharmacist and worked for years in our family drugstore, dispensing remedies for bad heartburn. I’m talking about good heartburn—the kind you actively seek and desire. I’m talking about those things that set your heart on fire. If you find those things, you’ll be on your way to spiritual wellness.
This is what two disciples found on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke. The men just witnessed the vicious and humiliating public execution of the leader they thought would change the world, and they are in the depths of despair. The dream is over. They are on their way to Emmaus, but there’s nothing to see or do in Emmaus. The truth is, they are getting out of town fast. They want to escape the pain of Jerusalem.
On the road they encounter a stranger. Their despair clouds their minds and they don’t recognize him as the risen Christ. Jesus listens to their story; then he challenges them to see things differently as he guides them through the Scriptures. Finally, when he breaks bread with them at the table, their eyes are opened and they recognize the risen Lord in their midst. Their first words are, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” (Luke 24:32). They had heartburn, and they were in no hurry to take Maalox! They had the kind of heartburn that you want to keep.
Back to our question: What gives you heartburn? What sparks a fire in your heart? What two sticks are you rubbing together in hopes of igniting such a fire? Answer that question, and you’ll know where your spirituality is going.
—7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness by Joe Paprocki
The Kitchen Table
The kitchen table in my parents’ house is the center of our family universe. The house doesn’t even have a dining room, which, according to my mom, was what made the house so appealing to buy some 40 years ago.
It’s not a fancy table, by any means. It’s a plain, round, wooden table that pulls apart so we can add leaves to make room for more people. It has been through three floods. My dad did his office “homework” at that table. If I was really quiet, he would let me help him staple his work together. My mom taught me to make pie crust at that table. Later, my dad helped me pass high-school geometry at that table. Endless green-bean casseroles have been served on it, and countless card games have been played around it. Babies have pounded Cheerios into it. An infinite number of chocolate-chip cookies have cooled on it. It’s where my family ate, but it’s also where we learned, where we gathered, where we laughed, and where we shared stories about our day.
It wasn’t all laughter and fun at the table. We sat around it 17 years ago and tearfully discussed how to allow my dad to die with dignity. My mother has planned her funeral at this table.
When we come together as a family, this table is where we come. This is where my family is truly a family. Whatever our professional lives may be, around this table, we are just us. It’s a safe place, where there is always food and laughter and people who have known each other forever. This table has given me the kind of heartburn that fills me with gratitude for my family and for the faith traditions they’ve handed down to me.
When I think about Cleopas and his companion walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35), I realize that even though their hearts were burning as they walked with Jesus, they didn’t recognize him until they ate at a table with him. Journeying with someone who knows you, who shares her or his faith with you, and who joins you in the intimate act of breaking bread is the ultimate act of communion. It’s where you get to be yourself at your most basic, personal level, and family is a way to make that happen.
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