To my knowledge, my ancestors weren’t Irish. But I somehow still participate in what’s called the “Irish goodbye.” If you’re unaware of what this is, it’s when you disappear from events and gatherings without saying goodbye to anyone. One minute you’re there, another minute you’re not. This is ideal for me because I’ve never been the social person that many find themselves to be. It’s much easier for me to run out the door like a ninja, so that when someone notices I’m gone, I’m already pulling into my parking spot at home. It’s similar when I have guests over as well. Except in this case, the only place you can disappear to is your room and, well, that just doesn’t go over well if you disappear at your own house. For people like me, and perhaps yourself, this quarantine season has been quite splendid. It gives you the excuse to stay home locked away from all social interaction. But yet, I still find myself longing for some sort of connection.

I’m definitely not the first one to point out the lack of connection in our culture and most certainly won’t be the last one. However, I can tell you that it is a weird feeling when you listen to podcasts all day and slowly begin to feel like your closest friends are the people’s voices coming through your earbuds.

Because of the contradiction I feel — both a lack of desire to be around people and a longing for connection — I picked up Robert Farrar Capon’s Party Spirit: Some Entertaining Principles with hope in my heart that his words would sway me. And sway they did.

No one else but Capon could take the idea of an invitation to a dinner party and reveal the gospel grace that is hidden within such an act. He predictably starts the book off with a bang:

… it may well be that the occasional invitation you issue or accept to nosh, to dine or splash in somebody’s pool is the only remaining sacrament in your life of the way the future really works. To begin with, it is a call home, a summons to belong, based not on your fitness (which is iffy at best) but on someone else’s willingness to say that, all unfitness to one side, he knows where he wants you to be.

Capon realizes the grace that is found in an extended arm that is reaching out for someone’s presence. Something that I never think of. Usually we find ourselves more concerned with how someone’s presence will affect us. We think of their annoying habits, or their usual comments that we possibly take the wrong way, or we might even think about how late someone might stay over and how there won’t be time to finish that episode of the current series you’re watching. But, even this, Capon has something to say about:

We are offering, if you will, to refresh their history with a decisively hopeful last chapter, all on a Saturday night. Notice, however, that that is precisely an act of faith and not an exercise in wishful thinking. We remain fully aware that Irving and Dorothy could well break up next year, just as they broke up last with Celeste and Arthur. We do not hide from ourselves the fact that Arlene becomes maudlin at ten, or that Grover moves to the right of Genghis Khan after three martinis. We carry with us the knowledge that Harold’s hand is bandaged because he punched a doorframe instead of his daughter, and that Jennifer’s frequent trips to the wine jug owe more to her husband’s roving eye than to her own parched throat.

You see, Capon reminds us that God gives grace not only to us but by means of us to others. The joys and exchanges of a dinner party, in Capons’ mind, mimic our relationship with God. In quarantine season, this pours into not only dinner parties but FaceTime calls, text messages, and even chatting over gaming systems while you play (one I prefer to indulge in).

Jesus himself uses this idea of a dinner party to paint a picture of the Kingdom of God. There are multiple examples, but perhaps the one where he tells the parable of the king throwing a wedding feast will suffice. There are invitations sent out over and over again; the King is beckoning his invited guests to join him. While some deny the invitation, Capon points out that

…all real gifts and all true calls are without repentance. The invitation to a party, whether it be for Saturday at Five or for the Youngest Day at the Clap of Doom is not a question; it is a statement. And it is a statement, not of possibility, but of fact. ‘You and Hermione belong, Melvin. I don’t care if you think you don’t, or if Hermione wants to insist on her bad manners. Say no if you like, but just remember, I wasn’t asking, I was telling.’

God’s invitation to the grace party isn’t one that can be debated, thankfully. And neither can the ones we extend or receive. Quarantine may make these invitations look different than actual requests for one’s presence at a dinner party. But we still are sending and receiving them in the form of vibrating phones.

When my phone begins ringing, I’m not one to reach for it immediately. My heart rate increases, and I begin to think of things like: How long will this conversation last? What topics will we have to talk about? Will I still be able to go about what I was planning on doing right now? Instead, Capon shows us (and the Spirit does so as well) that an invitation to conversation is not an intrusion but rather a reflection of God’s grace to you. It’s not something to run from; it’s an opportunity to refresh your history as someone whose presence is wanted, desired, even if, in this troubling time, it is only digitally. This season might be a difficult one, but there are still invitations to extend and invitations to receive, and hopefully we might find ourselves full of the party spirit, accepting the invitation to God’s grand party of grace and mercy.