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Rochester, NY, 14620


My Mother's Table

Andrea Burke

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I grew up with my mom’s Bible open at the breakfast table. She wasn’t always there. Work called early for an RN who walked the floors of a hospital. I’d be slopping milk in a bowl of cereal and see where she sat just hours before.

Her open Bible, her notes in cursive fresh in the margins, a mug with one sip of tea left at the bottom, a cooled tea bag resting on a spoon. This was a familiar sight.

If mom ever writes you a note, you know it’s going to include scripture. It’s going to include a verse that she’s praying over you, or something she read that reminded her to write. Years ago, when I was dining with the wayward and drinking my fill of what the world had to offer, my mother would write me notes and slip them into my room, the mail, in e-mails. Floral notecards with her familiar handwriting, a hint of her perfume in each opened envelope. Without fail, she’d speak scripture and it would slice me open, expose me, and make me wonder why I ever walked away at all. Even when she knew I didn’t want to hear it, she sent it. She never defaulted to the wisdom of the world. She knew what had sustained her and offered me the same bread. It was a familiar call from mountain to valley. Echoes of what I had once known.

Mom’s open Bible was so normal and seemed so easy. It was an extension of the rest of her. 

But today, I’m at my dining room table and my 10 year old is trying to explain to me the mnemonic device she learned to convert Kg into mg and gallons into cups. Meanwhile, my toddler is crying that the toast he asked for isn’t the toast he asked for, and that his pencil isn’t blue with a pink eraser as he apparently is convinced is necessary in this moment.

I have re-read the same 10 verses in 1 Corinthians 1 about 5 times now, each time with more frustration, more annoyance, more feeling like a failure to each of these things: my eager 5th grader, my attention-desperate 2 year old, my hungry and tired heart.

And then I remembered my mother’s Bible. No doubt (because I remember) she cracked it open when we all flooded her with questions and conversations. It sat open when I cried about boys. It sat open when my brother and I bombarded her with complaints on her day off. It sat open when the vacuum ran, the dishes clanked, the voices raised. My mother understood something that I’m just now learning.

Sitting at scripture isn’t something to check off my list. It’s not always a solitary feast. It’s where I dip my toes for a moment to remind me of the water that fuels my spirit. Somedays I have time to study. Somedays I have time to open a commentary, to dig deeper into the text, to know it and realize I don’t know it in 100 different ways.

But today I read “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” And I ask my 10yo while she checks her homework and fills her backpack, “What do you think that means?”

She stops. “What does folly mean?” she asks.

Oh, she’s actually listening. 

And we talk. About how the world may laugh. How friends won’t understand. How even we sometimes don’t get it. And yet, it’s the water, it’s the meal, it’s the sustenance, the Gospel that keeps us. She asks more, the Bible stays open, the toddler cries a bit more because now the milk he has is not the milk he asked for, and I am moving around like a blur. A robed, slipper-wearing worker bee who is meeting the needs of body and soul this morning. My coffee is nearly done and yet it sits, cooling, by the open book, my notes scribbled on a small notepad nearby. 

In one moment I look down and I see it. No, I see her. I see my mother and the faithful, well-worn path she laid before me. Our breakfast table wasn’t about the cereal and the tea and the toast and the coffee. It was a feast she laid before us, remnants of what she had found, morsels that whisper “Walk this way.”

So, mothers of young children, lets walk the well-worn path. Let’s open our Bibles while breakfast is served, while the bus watch is moments away, while the coffee is poured and the bananas aren’t banana-y enough, while questions about the metric system and “Can we have a sleepover” are bouncing around the table. Open the Bible, trust that even in imperfect, quick moments, the Bible is far more capable of doing the work it was created to do. To cut, to plant, to grow, to sustain. All right here.