come to the feast
I crane my head toward the back seat, just as he unfolds one long leg and touches the parking lot pavement with the beaten black tip of a sandal.
“Not too much, okay?”
He laughs, flashing me that dashing smile, running two long fingers over his lips as if the expression has taken him by surprise. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he says sheepishly, the words falling tumble-mumble on the seat as he looks down at his hands, those hands that pile on more food than a paper plate can hold. Our church family eats dinner together every Wednesday night.
“I’ll help him, Mom Jones,” Riley says, sweetly picking up that bit of Adam’s laughter and carrying it on, right out of the car. We walk across faded, cracked white lines, and I think of all the boxes He’s busted open, all the barriers we thought we’d never get beyond together. I knew an Adam who would eat six things, a half-starved newly diabetic baby who ate spaghetti (back then, his one favorite thing) until his round belly felt solid beneath my hands. I used to have to carry peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to our friends’ homes for dinner and watch him pick up the pieces with his fingers while we feasted on steaming fork-fulls. I used to wonder what diabetes and his diet would do to that precious body I touched tender with my mama fingers. And now here we are, walking toward a family meal, served up buffet-style by my sisters’ servant fingers, and I have to tell him, “Not too much.”
I have a meeting while the family eats, and I’m past the high-chair hoisting, slick-bib days when my kids wore more dinner than they consumed. Adam has become infamous for the balance of his plate, the way he feasts, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Doctor measures Adam’s height, eye-gazing his bone-lean frame, and answers the question I haven’t yet asked: “It all goes to bone growth.” These days, food is our surest way to engage Adam in conversation. Kevin pretends to thieve Adam’s ice cream or Zoe dips her fingers into Adam’s crackers, or I “forget” he likes coffee with his breakfast, just to hear his rich voice. Adam is an all-things-no person, unless the subject is food, and by grace, miraculously still for me, the answer to that question is always yes. You’d never know Adam was once afraid to taste, that he once despised the regularity of meals.
Autism makes a mystery of social rules, and although Adam understands that I require some restraint, he finds my rules incomprehensible. Why not just eat what you want? Having learned the joy of the feast, my son defies stereotypes predicting his rigidity. I can write it down: 1 piece of chicken, 1 scoop of potatoes, 1 buttered roll, 1 spoon of those savory, dripping beans, and he will still find some way to slide a bit extra onto his teetering plate. And waiting? Well, he hates waiting, is verbously impatient, especially when it comes to food. I have stopped needing everyone to know I train him. He lacks a certain capacity for others-thinking, but we persist, and I find it funny that his sister, a slide on further down the Spectrum, understands the need for control a little better.
“I’ll make sure Adam doesn’t take too much,” Riley says, joy-trilling, looking at me with glimmering eyes.
It’s a moment, just a beat, before we’re in the door, but it has me thinking about the God-feast. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, David writes (Psalm 23:5), and you’d think David was sitting at a banquet table glutted with food rather than field-wandering or cave-hidden or war-chased. But David knew of a different kind of feast, the kind that left him full even while his body was hungry. “I’m the bread of life,” Jesus said. “He who comes to me will never be hungry (John 6:35),” and he says it to a crowd of hungry people looking for another food miracle. This time, Jesus clarifies something they missed the last time they ate. “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life (v. 27).” All this hungering meant to teach us about a different kind of full (Deuteronomy 8:3), and we’re a world full of starving people, still feeding on ashes (Isaiah 44:20). God prepares a table before us, a place we don’t even deserve to be (2 Samuel 9:7), and most of us are too busy gathering straw (Exodus 5:11) to eat. I forget lunch all the time, do you? Kevin shakes his head and wonders how, and Adam, who remembers what it’s like to eat and hunger still, considers anything a snack if it’s not at one of his regular, never-gonna-miss-it meal times.
I’m thinking now, following my long-stretched, hollow-legged, feast-loving son in to dinner, that I have an Adam-sized craving for God. I want to pile my plate mountain-high, and don’t you dare tell me to wait. This is my one first favorite thing, the filling nothing and no one can ever take away. This is the place I don’t deserve to be; the place where I carry my deep, half-starved hungry; the place where I will be fully satisfied, as with the richest of foods (Psalm 63:5). Care to join me?