How do we gather in meaningful ways? After the pandemic took apart so many of our favorite ways of hanging out, we might be out of practice. Or too tired or overwhelmed.
Priya Parker is an expert facilitator who encourages us all to practice being together for different reasons. And they don’t have to be nearly as fancy or predictable as we might think…
In this episode, Kate and Priya discuss:
Kate and Priya talk about the need to gather in order to fight loneliness. Learn more about the Epidemic of Loneliness on our podcast with Dr. Murthy Surgeon General.
Learn more about the Art of Gathering by reading Priya Parker’s book.
Here is the New York Times article “We needed More Significant Others” explaining the story about hosting a roast for a friend’s right foot before having it amputated.
Priya talks about the Gourmand Groups of the 60’s. Here is an article from The Atlantic that explains the difference between Gourmet and Gourmand.
Priya states “we are all searching for meaning” like Victor Frankl states in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning. Here is a YouTube video that explains this quote based off Frankl’s book.
Learn more about this subject with Priya on her ted Talk on transformative gatherings.
Ready to get planning your next transformative gathering. Here is a virtual study gathering Guide resources provided by Priya.
We have a new book coming out! And you’re the first to know. It’s called, The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days. It releases in February. But if you pre-order, we’ll send you a free pennant to bless all of our ordinary, tired, grief-striken, garbage days (and even a very average Tuesday, too). Learn more, here.
Kate Bowler: Remembering the before times when we used to get together without a second thought. Lingering dinners and grabbing drinks after work. Catching up with old friends over coffee. Annual costume parties, if you’re me. And neighborhood barbecues and little game tournaments and book clubs that were more wine maybe than books. But then the pandemic. The pandemic forced us to have a bit of a reset. We had to learn how to be together apart. So we got creative. Zoom charades, and zoom coffee dates, and zoom painting classes, and zoom book clubs, and faculty meetings, and some of those innovations we might want to keep. And others we want to exile from our minds forever. In whatever time this is that we find ourselves now, we may be wondering what getting together should look like now. How do we get the good parts back that we had in the before times? But we might be a little bit out of practice or too tired or too overwhelmed, to even know what to ask for. But we know this part is true when life comes undone. We need each other now more than perhaps ever before. So the very act of gathering feels central to, I don’t know, survival maybe. But how do we do it in a way that fits our lives, now, the after life? I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens. And today I’m speaking with an expert facilitator who can help us figure out how to gather together in ways that really matter. And here’s the best part. It doesn’t even have to be fancy or predictable or boring. Priya Parker is a facilitator, strategic advisor and author. She wrote the game changing book, “The Art of Gathering How: We Meet and Why It Matters”, where she helps us reimagine and think about how we spend time together. Priya, thank you so much for doing this. I’m so glad you’re here.
Priya Parker: Thank you for having me.
Kate: Your work really reminds me of one of the conversations I had a long time ago with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and it was when he took his first job as surgeon general and he wanted to do a kind of listening tour to find out more about the major health issues that Americans face. And I think he was expecting to find something like, I don’t know, heart disease. But the crisis that struck him most was loneliness. Americans reported feeling painfully lonely. Loneliness that had a huge effect on their mental and physical health. And that was even before the loneliness of the pandemic. I’d love to start there. Why is it important to get together?
Priya: One of the reasons I think Dr. Murthy is such a phenomenal doctor is because he is looking at his patients, quote unquote, with a lens of no judgment. And really trying to see what the underlying malaise is. Not the symptoms. And well before the pandemic, as you know, as you said, he diagnosed this kind of heart breaking disease in this country, which is we’ve fallen out of relationship with each other.
Kate: Yes, that’s so true. It’s so death by weak ties right now, isn’t it?
Priya: It’s a that’s such a beautiful, beautiful way to put it. It’s you know, I, I wrote The Art of Gathering in 2018. And as you know, as a as a writer, you kind of have to go out and ask people is like terrifying, you have to ask people for for blurbs.
Priya: And years ago, I, I hosted with some friends and colleagues of mine these dinners called 15 toasts that were were kind of this social invention to try to have people to have more meaningful conversations at dinners that they at, whether at conferences or a group of strangers. And I happened somebody invited Deepak Chopra to one of them.
Kate: Oh, my gosh.
Priya: And and, you know, years later, I wrote this book. And, you know, they kind of tell you, like, who who have you ever met in your entire life that could write a?
Kate: Exactly. That’s exactly what happened.
Priya: And I was like I was sort of met Deepak Chopra. I was like, let me, you know, send him a note. And, you know, I don’t I know of him, but I don’t I didn’t know him. And he wrote me back this surprising to me, beautiful blurb after reading this book. And he said. I basically stopped going to gatherings and I, I thought I was just aging and I just they weren’t for me anymore. And I began to realize that, no, they just weren’t meaningful. These gatherings, we can come together and we can still basically not have a good time or feel isolated or or have kind of superficial conversations or. Yeah, or we can basically still be together and feel very apart. And so much of what I am interested in, and I think you are interested in, is how when we come together, when we choose to come together, how do we make that time meaningful and authentic and real? And that most people are craving that. But for all sorts of reasons, we keep missing each other.
Kate: I think of Academia fell in love with this model of the salon, which ideally, is supposed to be sort of this incredible confluence of smart and amazing people. But then the the model, she just said lovingly and respectfully, is you just put a whole bunch of people in a room and go “content”. It’s like you just say the word “content” and um. So, and then but you haven’t given them what you would describe right is like this animating purpose. So is that I guess maybe the first clue that a gathering will go very badly, is that it has no it has no obvious reason or just assumes that if you quote, put the right people in the room, but without knowing why that it just can’t always invent itself.
Priya: I think people can always find their way to each other, right. So it’s it’s not that people, you know, can you put people in a room and they it’s guaranteed to go any way whatsoever. I think it can it can you know, you can have sparks and people can find you know, can find their ways to each other. But but sort of underneath what I’m saying is the time that we spend with other people, the time that we have period is sacred. The time we have with other people is kind of this like collective sacredness, right? We could be doing anything at any moment. Why are we spending this time together? To what end? You know, I’m a conflict resolution facilitator, and so I’m trained to put people together in a room who need to have meaningful conversations and are avoiding that conversation for all sorts of reasons. And when I took that lens to other fields and said, who was creating, you know, transformative experiences for people? And I interviewed them. So many people, whether as rabbis or hockey coaches or photographers they kept coming back to this this basic insight, which is I don’t have a line in my head of what a gathering has to look like. Every single time I pause and ask, Why am I doing this? What is the need? Why might I bring together a specific group of people? And a purpose, you know, a purpose need not be serious. Like you don’t need to, you know, be the U.N. to have a purpose. A purpose is what I mean by that is basically having a an underlying sense of relevancy. Why would I want to get these people together? And that can be to celebrate the arrival of a new rug. That can be. That can be. I was recently speaking with a woman who was separated and just got separated and she, like in many separations, moved, move out, separated, decoupled from her partner and moved into a much smaller studio. And she was kind of self-conscious about whether or not she could gather people and she hadn’t had people over since the split. It felt like this, you know, raw moment and tender moment. Who does she invite to invite kind of their shared friends? You know, what do you what do you kind of do here? And we talked about it and I, I in kind of in our conversation, she’s thinking about throwing a room of one’s own party.
Kate: Oh, that’s. Lovely.
Priya: And she found this kind of she distilled it down to this need, right? There’s taboo around separation. There’s taboo around divorce. But this is the most and this is the most courageous decision I’ve made. I have created space in my life. I have taken these massive risks. I have literally changed my life and my infrastructure and my home. How then and who do I want to enter into it in this moment? And that’s a that when I say a need or a purpose, it can be a hilarious night. It can be full of humor, it can be full of joy, it can be full of tenderness. But it’s having a decision making filter of what is actually happening in my life or my community, and then who was invited in. And then that guest making list in your head actually becomes this incredibly intentional practice of given this purpose, who do I want to help fulfill that purpose for this evening?
Kate: Yes, yes. Not cosmically, for all time.
Kate: My best friend was having a birthday that she was a little I don’t know, she just felt blah about. And I just read your book and I thought, you know, I think we just need a little emotional timekeeping right now. So we wrote down everything that’s happened that felt like it just hadn’t quite gotten celebrated in the last year. And then we picked we will we made up dumb thematic cocktails about it. And in this book, let’s.
Priya: Hear the list, let’s hear the lists.
Kate: The truth is, one of them was called A Rum of One’s Own. So thank you for that. But it does feel good when people can keep pace with us in the thing that is lighting up or sometimes shutting down our lives. I think the best party I ever threw was only because I, I was very sick and I mostly didn’t have I didn’t have that many people that lived around where I was getting chemo. And I really just wanted people to sing Christmas carols with because I love it. When you get a roomful of people who sing and I didn’t even know if they liked each other that much, but like they really did.
Priya: It doesn’t matter.
Kate: They all sang.
Priya: Yes, completely. I mean, there’s so many you know, we used to in traditional communities, you know, when people were born in the same place, and ate the same food, and worshiped the same God and died on the same soil. There were embedded rituals that helped for moments of transition. And so whether it’s Christmas carols, like if I were to like reverse engineering, that beautiful gathering you thought about what is your need and your need was not Christmas carols. That’s an activity. Your need was to feel deep joy. And then you thought, well, what are the elements that give me deep joy? Well, Christmas carols without judgment, right?
Kate: Totally. Absolutely
Priya: And it’s like, who are the people in my life, not who will sing Christmas carols, but who do who will literally follow me to the ends of the earth and love me when I need to be loved on.
Kate: Yeah, yeah, that’s right.
Priya: And you know, I remember reading a few years ago a woman who wrote in The New York Times, I’m forgetting her name right now. Maybe it’ll come to me, her husband, her partner, to be found out that he needed to have his foot amputated. It was before their wedding and in, as she described it, in his trademark sense of humor the night before, what he most wanted the night before the amputation was a foot roast in which she gathered all of his friends. And when they all gave roast to his left foot. Oh. And. And it was this beautiful, hilarious, tragic, stunning presences ritual that has relevance. Right. That has meaning under it. And and by the way, also often people say to me, well, who am I to gather around the specific thing in my life? It’s actually like it’s such a gift to be needed. It’s such a gift to come together and say, yes, I can sing Christmas, christmas songs, Christmas carols. It lets me know how to love you and the way you want to be loved. Yes, let me give a roast to your left foot. You know, yes, let me, you know, think about my my punt, my corniest foot puns, because it allows me to know how to love you in a way where I we don’t always know what to do.
Kate: Yeah, that’s right. I don’t think I didn’t really start throwing parties till I got sick. And then I just I needed I needed people. And a big feeling that could mark the if like, if I had the bottom of the roller coaster, I needed the top feeling. And for me, that’s always the surrealness of people who might not even know each other, all that well doing usually in my mind, the same dumb thing. Like I been, I noticing really aggressive taste test parties for a long time where it’s like 12 catch ups one evening.
Priya: It’s amazing. Amazing. But say and again like, I’m sorry to sound like a broken record, but it’s like it’s a brilliant gathering because it’s specific, it’s meaningful. It relates to the element, I imagine, of what you’re actually appreciating and what you’re losing. And it reminds other people what they have. Right. It’s a beautiful, invented, modern ritual. And I think so often we like we think we need to crowd out at our moments of of tenderness or shame. And sometimes we need to be alone. Like, absolutely stillness is also medicine. And I’ve been so moved in the moments where people call in, kind of like reaching through the dark, figuring out, like following almost their intuition. It’s like, what is it that I need? And this seems kind of strange, but I’m going to kind of go for it. You know, I this is a this is from a friend of mine years ago, she was part she was she joined a consulting firm after grad school. Like many people who joined consulting firms hadn’t really been planning on it, but they had really aggressive, well-organized recruitment on campus and and and kind of followed it. And and I should just say, all the stories I share, I have permission to share. But she she kind of follow this thread. And before she knew it, every time she was about to leave, she kept on getting a raise. She was she was really good. She was very smart. And she finally realized like eight years in unless she leaves at a moment that’s going really well, she’s literally never going to leave. Right. Like it’s this. Designed to make you stay. And so she sent a note out to six or seven of her friends and said, I need you to blow courage my way. I want to host a quitting party. I need time to unravel this and I don’t fully know how to do this, but I need you to hold me accountable. And each of you are people who have made decisions that make no sense to anyone else within your community. Won’t you come and bring one piece of courage that has helped you. It can be a poem. It can be a song. It can be a joke. It can be a TV show. And we gather and we like again, it’s not complicated. We sat on her like rug around a coffee table, and we each just shared an experience kind of organically, about a moment we made a terrifying decision that made no sense to anyone else. And when we go back to the beginning of this conversation, when you’re saying, like, what is the purpose here? That’s when I say it may not be serious, but she she realized I have a lot of fear around quitting. The people, there are are people in my life who who grow that fear or share that fear or think that I should stay in this thing. I am not going to invite those people to this party. They can be invited to my birthday party. They can be invited to, you know, going in the park. But that’s when I say to have a specific, disputable purpose. We each felt also really seen, Oh, someone in my life sees me as making courageous decisions. I didn’t think of myself that way. And I mean, this was a decade ago, and I still remember what other people shared. It helped me. It’s like when gatherings are transformative. It’s not only for the person at the center of it. If that’s the model, it’s also for everybody else. We each took six stories, six poems, we each. And then six months later, you know, come hell or high water. She was going to quit. Otherwise she had six of us being like, remember, it was community as like accountability mechanism. But it was also fun and meaningful and raw and scary and all of us realizing like, Well, how do you make a good decision? And when do you leave? And how do you decide? And then sometimes you just got to jump.
Kate: Yeah, and I love the idea too, that especially for people who are kind of overburdened with time, that just because they get a group of people together doesn’t mean they have to do it for all time every Wednesday until, until the end of. Because one time, and we only did it once. A group of colleagues and I all got together and read our horror. We each went into a separate room and read our teaching evaluations. By ourself. In our moments of shame. Just process. Because everybody I do the same thing every year, which is I don’t care how many compliments I get if there is one. I hated this reading and this was the worst of all time. And then after we’d all had our moments of humiliation, then we got together in the group and we all said our worst one out loud in a really, really loud voice. And that was so fun, because then it took it weirdly took the sting out of the humiliation. And and I think there was something about using a really loud voice where we’re like and then Bryan says, and I quote, So.
Priya: I mean, again, brilliant. I mean, if you think about it, that’s such a beautiful design. There’s so much thought in it. There’s there’s there’s wisdom that says sometimes we want to read some some stuff that stings alone. Right? So the there again, there’s like two phases of this gathering as I’m listening to it. So there’s like this alone part and then you come together and there’s choice. You can choose which one you want to share, right? Which one you. And then there’s humor in it. And then there’s this collective sense much more deeply that’s like this is part of teaching.
Kate: Totally. Yes. Oh, wait. We all are really never going to bring this up in a faculty meeting. Oh, wait. We are all carrying around this horrified sense that our colleagues are better than we are at this specific thing.
Priya: You’re you know, when you said just because we come together every Wednesday doesn’t I mean, it just becomes we come together once us. It doesn’t mean we have to come together every Wednesday. Like I love that so much. And I, I, this is, I, you know, I make this distinction between gathering and community, which is a gathering just sort of just to set the table gathering is any time three or more people. So I’m really talking about a group, but three or more people come together for a purpose with the beginning, middle and end it ends. It’s a moment in time where as a community, you know, communities have gatherings, and gatherings can create a sense of community, but they’re really two separate, two separate things, you know, gatherings that are relevant, gatherings that people love, have some kind of there’s a motivating force is like you kind of like there’s an energy there. That’s also true for communities. And communities have life cycles. So what might be really burning and relevant at one moment over five years or ten years or two years or three months. May actually that need may be fulfilled. A few years ago a friend of mine’s mother told me about a gourmand group that she’d been a part of for like 25 years. A gourmand group, I didn’t know this. Maybe you know this, but it was apparently all the rage in the eighties. It was like in all of these, like, food magazines. And it kind of took off when I when I did research for the art of gathering multiple people in their sixties and seventies, told me around the country told me about this, like their gourmand group that they’re a part of. I was like, okay, tell me more. And this woman said to me, I was I was in a car with her a couple of years ago pre-pandemic. And she said, you know, I love this group. My husband and I love this group for 30 years. We’ve, we’ve for 25 years, whatever it was we have. rotated who hosts this monthly dinner. It’s helped us learn what to cook. It’s helped. We’ve over time, we’ve seen each other raise our children. We’ve seen each other through phases. We’ve seen each other through divorce. We through all of the stuff. And something kind of sad has happened in the last few months. You know, it’s like we’re getting a little older, attendance is down. It just doesn’t really feel like, you know, that same energy it once was, people kind of ghosting and I and she said, and that kind of makes me sad. I don’t really know what to do. How do I revive it? And I said, What if you just host The Last Supper?
Kate: I love that.
Priya: What if it’s time to end? Yeah. And like the life came back in her face and she said, Oh, how beautiful. And we talked about it. I said, you know, so often, like, groups have their life cycles and maybe sometimes you find a new need and you can reinvigorate it. But often we don’t know when or how to end. And so we kind of ghost. But how beautiful and energizing to come together and have a last supper. And maybe it’s like the best of dishes or. And each person talks about what this group has meant to them. And she was she was so moved. And she emailed the group and she suggested the dinner. And then an interesting thing happened. They all said, no, no, no, no, no. We are in. Yeah, but the cooking feels really weighty now that we’re in our sixties and seventies and we shift the model.
Kate: Oh, that’s nice
Priya: Yeah, right. And so it’s like groups have their own cycles, and so often we need to just pay attention. Like, when did this gathering serve? What are the specifics of this ritual serve? And we don’t need to do it forever, but if it’s still relevant, then do it till the cows come home.
Kate: Yeah, that’s so good, because we have so many people in our community who are gatherers. They’re, you know, pastors are priests who lead a weekly service or people who run book clubs or small groups or, you know, teachers or and there’s just a lot of there’s a lot of bringing people together and I imagine a lot of traditions and then sometimes ruts around things and the way they’ve always been done. There is one common advice given to pastors just about to go into a new church is, don’t change anything in a year. Like don’t move a Bible, don’t, don’t, don’t move a chair for the love of God do not touch
Priya: So interesting.
Kate: Any of their stuff. And I really get the listening part of community discernment. But every now and then I think we go into places where we could add a little life and then we think, Oh my gosh, I can’t touch anything.
Priya: Well, what’s so interesting about that example is there’s wisdom and there’s there’s an insight that I hear in there, which is. People are attached to certain activities because they give them meaning or objects because they give them meaning. Part of the role of the pastor, if we want to continue this metaphor, is to help with care and empathy and precision. Shake loose the object or the activity from the source of meaning. And so when you walk into a place, whether you’re a pastor, or a rabbi, or an imam, or a choir conductor. To first, what I hear in that advice is like there’s an honoring let me see these people. Let me see where they get meaning from. Let me see what how they do certain things. And Krista Tippett has this great line. She says, We assume a monolith and the other that we know not to be true in ourselves,.
Kate: That’s so good. I like that.
Priya: Like once you get into a church, like any church, any any community, there are so many divisions, there are so many controversies, there are so many differences. And there’s almost always people who have been asking or agitating for change for so long. And so often the role of a facilitator or small a facilitator is to kind of help with care, have people.
Priya: Detach the specific object or activity from the meaning that it makes from it.
Kate: One of the things I’m most drawn to about you is your there’s such a vulnerability in what you’re describing. You really want us to be here? I did. It sounds weird to be like, you. Really want us to be uncomfortable, but you do. You want us to kind of peel away a few layers and and take a little risk. And that it seems it always, when I when I read your work, it feels like, oh, there’s something there’s. You’re helping a structure, a discovery. That only happens when we put people together.
Priya: I love your your framing of of structuring a discovery. Such a beautiful language.
Kate: Because that’s how I feel about a classroom, is I don’t know who’s there, but I know how to shape an arc in a, yes, in a set of ideas. But the magic for me is that when they’re there, those I’ve never I’ve never met those people before in that even if I’ve had that same conversation a thousand times and I feel the magic, I guess, and that’s the only. One I’m good at, is me trailing off here. But I do know how to do a classroom feeling. And I thought maybe we could do that for other things, I guess.
Priya: Absolutely. Well, and I think there’s two discoveries I’m trying to help people structure, and this is where the risk lies. The first is structuring a discovery within oneself. What is my need here? How am I, how am I actually feeling? I know I’m supposed to be feeling. How am I actually feeling right. Yeah. How? Like, what is it? I mean, just the practice of beginning to name a want or a desire. Is an incredibly vulnerable process
Priya: So the first act enabled to create an artful or meaningful gathering for others is actually pausing and structuring that discovery within. And then the second risk is then with others, right? Given that to then make stick your neck out, to be vulnerable, to take a risk, to say, I have this wild idea, why don’t you join me or I have this need, would you come around? And so much of gathering and this is frankly true as a guest or a host, is we’re making micro decisions in any moment about how to how to be. And what it’s not so much that I’m like, I think you should be really vulnerable. It’s more I, I invite myself and others to be really alive, to be really present. And I think this is so true in your work. This is so deeply embedded within Brené Brown’s work. It’s like to actually be really present is a is a it’s a kind of a vulnerable act.
Kate: Because at the beginning when we talked about loneliness and how uncomfortable it is to even admit that you are lonely. It’s a horrible admission to say that you’re lonely because it sounds like simultaneously saying that you’re unpopular, like, why haven’t you solved this this easily solvable problem, which is, yes. You know, interdependence. But then it turns out interdependence is one of the hardest things in the whole world, even just to know that you need something and then have that impossible act of texting or worse for a whole generation of people calling.
Priya: To ask for what you want or need in any relationship, let alone in a group is, is an act of courage. You know, as we’re talking, I’m thinking of a friend of mine who her father died maybe five or six years ago. He was an Egyptian immigrant to Germany. She’s half German, half Egyptian immigrant to New York. Her father passed away. She went back to Germany for his funeral. She comes back to New York and I check in on her. And how are you doing? And she says, you know, the funeral was I’m so happy I was there. I saw many of my childhood friends. I was there for my mother. But I, I it’s a I feel very untethered because my community, my present community didn’t know him, wasn’t part of this funeral. I’m not sure what to do about that. And long story short, she we in conversation, we kind of invented kind of a mixed Muslim tradition and then the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva except with her. And she invited 40 friends as she wrote just in an email, she she shared what was going on and she said, you know, I would love for you to come and just be with me this evening. I’d love to, if it’s all right. Tell you stories about my father and what he meant to me. I realized I need my community. I know it’s, you know, maybe a little bit of a strange request. like come by six, come at six, will start the quote unquote program in my living room at seven, and we’ll feast at nine. And people came and we wore, you know, navy and black and multiple different cultures and traditions. And also we live in New York City. Most people are transplants. And she sat and she, you know, I think was a 7:00. She sat in the middle of the room, incredibly vulnerable. And she played a song that he always played in her childhood. And then she just told us stories about him and showed us photos of him. And we laughed and we cried and we laughed really hard because some we realized like, Oh, our friend isn’t unique. She’s just her father’s daughter. And we thought of all of the people that we’ve lost and the and and then I again, kind of organically she just sat there at the end of it and she just said, thank you so much for listening to me. And she played a hadith that he would play every morning in the shower. And then there was this kind of organic response where whoever wanted to in the room just shared what it was, you know, what they what it was like for them when they lost somebody or what it was like when they listened to her, not advice, not just sitting together to be in community. We laughed and we cried. And it was this again, kind of made up ritual that was so desperately relevant.
Priya: And it took a risk. It was a risk on her part. It was a risk on everybody else’s part. It was a risk in that moment for that first person to then respond and say, I hear you when I lost my parent or when I listen to you, I think of my great aunt who no one ever met but is so deeply shaped me. In fact, this is the handbag that I’m carrying. It’s from her, right? She gathered us by gathering her us around a specific need. Whether, you know, whether you do something is relatively simple. I’m using simple in quotes as a ketchup tasting party, or whether something more complex as a invented half Muslim, half Jewish, half German, half New York ritual. Part of the I you know, I think we’re all we’re all it’s like Viktor Frankl. We’re all searching for meaning. And in modern life, that meaning even more than in most times, that meaning is no longer as inherited as it has been in the past. And so part of modern life is the skill of invention. And invention starts by just simply seeing and observing what am I experiencing and what is the need here in this community.
Kate: I really like that. I really like that.
Priya: And it does not need to be fancy. Often fanciness is a blockage from connection. It’s a distraction. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fancy meaningful gatherings. But that’s not the point. It’s not the form. Like this is a deeply, deeply democratic skill need. It is deeply accessible. It’s like that ratatouille, anyone can cook, anyone can gather.
Kate: Oh, that’s so good, hon. That’s so accessible. Thank you for doing this with me today. What a joy.
Priya: I thank you for having me.
Kate: I am so glad I got to meet you.
Priya: It’s such a treat. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for your beautiful questions and modeling, risk and vulnerability and so much of what you do. And it’s really such a treat to be in conversation with you.
Kate: You I will invite you to my next mega-church, gingerbread construction party.
Priya: I am so there. I am so there.
Kate: Friends. I cannot wait to hear about the parties you throw and the ways that you create meaningful not that fancy gatherings, after listening to this conversation. Maybe even how this inspires you to change how you think about doing Thanksgiving or Christmas this year. Or think of a creative way to ask for what you really need. Joy in the form of off key Christmas carols or the presence of friends who want to hear about your heart being broken, like Priya’s friend who created her own funeral ritual for her dad. Or a minute just to laugh at the absurdity of our beautiful, terrible life. I know that I have some new taste test ideas brewing. I have this really focused one about bluebell ice cream and how tired I am about listening to the inherent superiority of bluebell ice cream. Yeah, hot take. But I’ll keep you posted. But today, I thought maybe we could close with a blessing. A blessing that comes from our new book of blessings. Yes, you heard that right. We have been ending our episodes with blessings for the longest time. And that has been the stuff that you write in asking for is, hey, where can I have some of these? Sometimes sad, sometimes hopeful, all of these kinds of blessing things. So, hey, Jessica Richie and I, my producer and coauthor, thought that we would write a book just of blessings. And I’m so excited to let you know that it’s coming out in February. You can preorder it now. If you like. It’s so important to authors that we get preorders so that people like our publishers know that it matters to them. So if you’re interested. It’s called “The Lives We Actually Have: 100 blessings for Imperfect Days”. So inside you’ll find blessings for all of our regular days, our regular lives, you know, the days that are beautiful or painful, or ordinary, or sometimes just straight up garbage. And to celebrate all of our future meaningful gatherings. Let’s do this. Here is a blessing for being around the table with each other at last. All right, here we go. God awaken us to the everyday miracle of a simple meal, whether it’s takeout that took a phone call, a recipe that took an entire afternoon, or the cereal for dinner again, feeling this meal creates, bless it all. So blessed are we. Sharing a meal today. May we recognize God’s goodness in the thoughtful preparation and the delivering, in the eating together. Savoring something that tastes like love. May our time around the table be a gift. May we be present to one another, engaging all our senses as an act of thankful worship to the nourishment that’s before us with the people we love or are trying to. God bless the hands that prepared this. Those with us now and the ones we wish were and bless us. Oh God. In all of our eating and cooking and gathering and sharing our jokes, talking with our mouths full the elbows on the table. May we see and taste the love that multiplies. Amen. Thank you, loves
States from Novi, MI: Hi, my name is States and I’m calling from Novi, Michigan. And a very special, unique gathering that I once attended was the 80th birthday party for a very dear friend. She chose to invite people who had been a special part of her life from each decade throughout her life. So she had people from ages 1 to 10 being her brothers and siblings. She had people from 10 to 20 all the way up to her 80th year. And it was just such a special celebration to get to know who she was that the various decades of her life and to talk with different people and to hear stories shared about what was so meaningful about her and the impact that she had had on each of our lives during those decades. We really had the great opportunity to share life with her. Great way to celebrate and honor anybody on a very significant birthday.
Savannah from Salisbury, NC: Hi, Kate, this is Savannah Glover. I’m calling from Salisbury, North Carolina. So when I was diagnosed with a grade four glioblastoma, the doctors told me that the tumor before it was removed was the size of a grapefruit. So I threw a grapefruit party and invited a lot of my friends who had stood by me during my diagnosis season and my journey. And we had grapefruit cocktails and grapefruit desserts and snacks and all kinds of different stuff. Everybody wore pink or orange to look like a grapefruit. We hung up dried grapefruits on the wall and we did everything we could to make it feel happy and celebratory of not only the journey that I had been on, but I also wanted to honor and celebrate the people who had walked alongside me during some really hard times. And so we were successful in our grapefruit theme. And maybe one of these days we’ll do it all again sometime.
Regina Coopersburg, PA: Hi, Kate. This is Regina from Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. So I turned 40 in October 2020. The weight of the pandemic was heavy. I have a high risk heart condition and we were still social distancing and really being super careful about gathering. So the original plan pre-pandemic for my 40th was to take an epic trip through the Champagne region of France and Provence and through so much wine and eat so much cheese. But of course, that trip was canceled, along with everyone else’s plans for what seemed like eternity. So my husband and I decided we were just going to have a very small backyard gathering with about five of my very closest friends. Then on the morning of my 40th birthday, my 98 year old grandmother died of complications related to COVID. I hadn’t been able to see her since the start of the pandemic, and the sadness and grief that I felt that day just overwhelmed me. So no way was I having a party, even one with my closest friends. I was, I was out, but my husband insisted and wanting to make the day super special by way more cheese and way, way more champagne than any small group of people should ever consume. He said, Well, if you can’t be in France, let’s bring France to you. Right? So we went ahead with the party and I can’t think of a more meaningful party than one you spend with your sweetest friends who know you know exactly what you need and how to make you smile even on your best, worst days.
Marcia: Hi. Kate Bowler, it’s Marcia McPhee. I wanted to tell you about my dear friend, Miss Nina Reeves. And she taught me this table blessing. She was a beloved youth director in Alabama for decades. And the first time I had lunch with her, she said to me across the table in a restaurant, Marcia, whenever me and my interfaith friends get together, the words just get in our way. So we just lift the plate. And so ever since then, I’ve been teaching everyone at any gathering to lift a plate and simply say grateful. It’s kind of like a food toast. And the delight is always palpable. People are smiling and I think just grateful that nobody’s going to pray a long prayer with perhaps cringe worthy theology. So there you go. I lift the plate and say grateful.
Kate: A really special thank you to our generous partners who make this work possible. Lilly Endowment. The Duke Endowment. Duke Divinity School and Leadership Education. And to my wonderful team, Jessica Richie, Harriet Putnam, Gwen Heginbotham, Brenda Thompson, Keith Weston, Jeb and Sammy. Thank you. And I would love to hear what you thought about this episode. Would you do me a favor and leave a review on Apple Podcasts? It really, really means a lot to us when we get to hear what we do well and also might even do better. You can also leave us a voicemail and who knows? We might even be able to use your voice on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731. All right, lovelies. I’ll talk to you next week. But in the meantime, come find me online at Kate C. Bowler. This is Everything Happens with me Kate Bowler.
2 thoughts on “The Art of Gathering”
Kate, having ongoing Ovarian Cancer for six years, you are my hero, always speaking my truth and putting a smile on my face and in my heart. Love you!
I moved to another state where I didn’t know anyone in 2018, got divorced, and then Covid hit. I have not had consistent meaningful connection for five years. All these resources talk about making your gatherings more meaningful. What gatherings? And with whom would I gather? I work on my own all day. I go to church and no one reciprocates conversation. I go to meet ups and no one makes eye contact… People may be lonely but they don’t want other people in their lives