We hear it so often in stories that the context of the action is a feast. In mythology, the gods are feasting when a golden apple causes problems. In the Scriptures, there are wedding feasts and religious feasts and feasts that nobody wants to attend. In contemporary storytelling, there are retirement dinners and receptions and extravagant meals with ice sculptures, which make a great background for high drama or low comedy.
But after our last trip to El Salvador, I'll never hear the words, "And there was a feast..." the same again.
What the preamble, "And there was a feast" leaves out of the picture is the massive production that goes into setting the table in the first place. In the canton of El Tablon Cerna, we prepared a festive meal for the school dedication. But, long before we arrived, the preparations were laid. the people of the village set aside the tree branches, lumber, tarp, and wire that would be necessary for building shelters. They spoke with the Pastoral Team about how many ovens needed to be put together for that day, so they could have the requisite number of bricks on hand and the wheel barrows needed to haul them to the right place. Meanwhile, the Pastoral Team was shopping, shopping, shopping for potatoes, carrots, chickens, juice bags, spices, bottled water, and disposable dinner ware. Somebody was gathering all of the pots, pans, knives, spoons, and other cookware that would be necessary to prepare and serve a feast for 500 people.
We left the planning to those who have more experience and sense about these things than we do; but we did have the privilege of participating in all of the preparatory work that goes on long before someone can say, "And there was a feast...." When we first set down pails of water and gathered a few chairs around to peel the potatoes, it seemed like that pile would take forever to peel. And, because we offered ourselves so willingly to the tasks, I noticed that a few people in the community had to go home and scrounge up some extra knives for us. Outside of Juan's house were the potato peelers; inside were the carrot peelers, standing in a group, chatting away the best we could over our language differences. Behind the house were three women cutting chickens and draining them onto a pila, while a couple of very happy dogs were lapping up the water that ran down the side. All around, fires were burning, instructions were going out, and people were scurrying around to get the right stuff in the right place at the right time.
At first, everything was spread out. Potatoes were in one place- unpeeled over here, peeled over there, sliced in the bucket. Carrots were in another place, also divided according to whether peeled or sliced. Chicken were whole in one place, skinned in another, cut up in another, and boned yet another. Eventually, however, everything started coming together. All the potatoes were peeled and sliced and in buckets. Likewise the carrots. And, finally, they were all joined together in large pots cooking over the three side-by-side brick ovens. Then, the dinnerware was brought out, unwrapped, forks were wrapped into napkins, plates were on one side of the serving pots, forks and juice bags on the other.
By the time the guests came walking down the path, (this is the part signified by the words "And there was a feast..."), a good five hours of bustling work had been done that morning by a happy, busy group of people. It was lovely.
Whenever I hear the words, "And there was a feast..." I will think of that morning in El Tablon Cerna and breathe a quiet word of thanks for all of the people who labor for hours just to make those words possible.