Meraki [may-rah-kee] is a Greek word meaning to do something with soul, creativity, and love, to put “something of yourself” into another thing.
Photos by Amanda Martin, Meraki Table
Alex Steltzer, Amanda Martin, and Kiersten Tucker put this word into practice when they host dinner parties in Lynchburg to help women find how to meraki. This word is so integrated into what this group does that they put it in their name, Meraki Table.
“Meraki Table was a vision born out of my own heart, in need for a community of like-minded women, and also out of friendships of 6 years. All three of us came together to use our giftings for the sake of serving the women of Lynchburg,” Steltzer said.
On the first Thursday of every month, around 70 women come together at the Meraki House, a house on 65 acres of land. Steltzer describes it as “an oasis.” In this house, good food is eaten, intentional conversations are had, and friendships are formed.
These should be the results of any good dinner party, and achieving these results is truly an art form. The hosts of Meraki Table are truly artists in this way. That’s because, to them, hosting a dinner party is more than showing off fine china and impressive cooking skills. It’s about the motive behind it all.
“If a host is doing it out of a place where their heart is for everyone to feel loved and seen, then they will. But, if a host is doing it out of place to be showy, then it will feel very empty. I really think the heart and intention behind it matters,” Steltzer said.
Dinner parties at the Meraki House are very full, with intention and with guests. A little structure is required to keep things flowing smoothly. The night starts with about half an hour for mixing and mingling, a time for everyone to get to know each other. Next, all the women gather around one huge table to eat together. Food is an essential element, and it is definitely not overlooked at Meraki Table dinner parties.
As a health coach, Steltzer likes to create meals that are simple, nourishing, and delicious. One big hit was a peanut stew with coconut chicken and an Asian salad. All meals are made from scratch.
“Our heart is for it to be a healthful meal,” Steltzer noted.
Women leave with their stomachs full and their minds and souls as well. At a dinner party, food is a fundamental piece, but it needs authentic conversation to complement it.
Every Meraki dinner party has a theme woven into conversation throughout the night. After eating, table talk begins. This could be sharing a story, reading a poem, or telling a testimony. Two questions are asked, the women break up into groups, and then come back to the table to share. It’s important that everyone’s voice is heard.
Through this, Steltzer has witnessed walls broken down and women learning how to meraki.
“I have seen women come and be courageous and speak up for the first time in Meraki or share their stories with a bunch of strangers. I’ve seen women be bold and brave. They blossom,” she said.
People may not open up in conversation right away. A dinner party is simultaneously an intimate and welcoming environment. Balancing the two can be tricky. Steltzer explained that succeeding in this goes back to the heart of the host. The host must be willing to lead in vulnerability and service.
“Our team is always setting the tone for vulnerability. We lead them in this way by going first. We share our hearts and our story first and then give them space to do it. And having a servant’s heart in that is key.”
Delicious food and great conversations—what more could a dinner party need? Atmosphere. These two elements are ineffective without the right atmosphere and ambience. However, an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere does not always equal extravagant or over the top.
At Meraki dinner parties, simple seems to work the best. The tablescapes differ for every dinner. One night, Steltzer made a banner that took hours, but other nights it could be just a single flower on the table. The atmosphere may be one of the most important aspects. It is the atmosphere that makes a guest feel welcome and settle in, but along with everything else it is nothing without the recurring theme: a host with the right heart.
“I think it’s the atmosphere, but I also think it’s the heart of the host. It’s the heart of the atmosphere translated through the host,” Steltzer said.
It’s important to remember that perfection is never the goal when hosting a dinner party. There might be a stain on the tablecloth and the chicken might be a little overdone, and that’s okay. It’s not about having the “just right” menu or the perfect space. Steltzer lived in a camper for two years, and she still hosted dinner parties. To her, it was simply about showing her guests she cared and serving them a meal.
Meraki is a verb or adverb that is most often associated with cooking and preparing a meal. A dinner party needs to be meraki-ed to succeed. It’s an event that requires the heart and soul.