by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM November 16, 2018
Showing up is a good start.
A pastor who engaged in quite a bit of marriage counseling often remarked that he believed many challenges and problems in a relationship could be resolved if he could get the struggling couple to come together and meet in a room with a fireplace—warm, welcoming, designed to provide the ambiance to thaw and soften differences. The real challenge, he acknowledged, was getting people to the point of showing up.
I’m reminded of his words as many of us here in the United States and beyond prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Beyond the questions of menus, traditional family favorites, and customs is also one of the practical details of any family or group gathering: where to seat everyone, how to find the optimal place for those who do show up. In my family, Aunt Mary always expected a place at the table with the light behind her (“More flattering,” she insisted.) Then there had to be end or corner seats for those of us who were left-handed so that there was no knocking of elbows as forks were raised during the feast.
In some families or groups, consideration must be given as well to who sits next to whom. Story People’s “Rules for a successful holiday” humorously describes what sometimes can occur where deep-seated political, religious, or relationship issues come to the table:
“1. Get together with the family.
2. Relive old times.
3. Get out before it blows.”
The table illumines questions of belonging and fitting in, questions of boundaries, priorities and values. Yes, there may be the annoying relative or the sibling who knows just how to push everyone’s buttons. But the table invites us to embody, if not genuine spaciousness of heart, at least an effort to accommodate differences, to be open to the other. Showing up and making it to the table is a promising beginning.
What Henri Nouwen says about the table of the Eucharist is also true of other tables in our lives:
“When we gather around the table and eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup, we are most vulnerable to one another. We cannot have a meal together in peace with guns hanging over our shoulders and weapons attached to our belts. When we break bread together, we leave our arms—whether they are physical or mental—at the door and enter into a place of vulnerability and trust.”
Richard Rohr echoes this sentiment in describing the Eucharist as “the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal… Somehow, we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside us for another presence. If we’re filled with our own opinions, righteousness, superiority, or self-sufficiency, we are a world unto ourselves and there’s no room for another.”
So let us enter Thanksgiving with an awareness of how our coming to the table mirrors “eucharist with a small e.” Let us reflect on our circle of acquaintances, colleagues, loved ones, friends, neighbors, and ask how we might cultivate living most inclusively.
Because much more happens at the table than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. At the table, we become and are becoming family, friends, community in the ways that Joy Harjo describes in “Perhaps the World Ends Here”:
“The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it.
Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.
We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children.
They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table.
It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.”
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on the different tables at which you’ve gathered and on what has happened around them.
At what tables have you most clearly experienced the presence of the Holy One?
Give thanks for those who fill the tables of your life and add a leaf for those yet to come.
In this season of gratefulness, I’m giving thanks for your following of Mining the Now and wishing you and those you love every blessing of this season of giving thanks.
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8 thoughts on “At the Table”
Dear Chris, what a gem….I got no further in reading before I made and lit the first fire of the season after the big snowfall last evening. I then sat down and tasted the gift of words and prayed to widen my spaciousness of heart while thinking of our own Thanksgiving table. The chair reserved for Sr Chris will be included at the table in gratitude for one of life’s dearest friends. Thank you, and may you too experience all the goodness and peace you extend to us…in friendship, Linda
Linda, dear, I’m honored to have a chair at your home’s table or the table of your heart any time! Wishing you and your loved ones all the blessings you send so abundantly to me.
Thanks so much for these thoughts and previous one-Hope you are feeling stronger and have a blessed Thanksgiving.
Thank you, Joan, and know that I wish you the same.
Thank you so very much for reminding me what my Pastor taught me many years ago. Bring your troubles and your happiness and Sit at the Kitchen Table and share it all. It will bring peace.
A very wise pastor, Kathy. How true that if we can come together and be willing to engage in conversation, there’s always the possibility that our lives will be enlarged by what we hear.
I went to Imaculata High School in Detroit, and graduated from Marygrove College. Your blog is so beautiful and really lifts my spirits!!! Thanks. Margaret Tiernan Armstrong. Spartanburg, S. C.
Thank you for your affirmation, Margaret. The IHM spirit is alive and well in you!