If you were to do a cursory search for ways to show hospitality to others, my guess is you would find many of the examples center around food. Sharing a meal is intimate enough that we tend to invite only our friends to join, and rarely include those with whom we are not fond.
The table facilitates a rare presence between us, even when language or topics of discussion or even agreement have failed us. The world longs for us to cling to our differences, but the table brings us together and says, Look closer. What else do you see? It encourages empathy and invites inquiry. It nudges us over social and cultural lines that may otherwise be taboo to cross. It allows us to see one another in ways we may miss at the office, over text messages, or while caring for the children.
And what do we find in common? We find a deep longing for justice, to exist in a world that feels whole and pure. We touch a tender desire to be acknowledged and accepted for who we are, and for our little lives to have meaning. We search for truth, since what drives us in our hearts is often small and faulty and so misinformed. And we ache for grace, the bridge that helps us cross the great divide between what is and what could be. Essentially, we long for God. Every one of us.
In her poem, Red Brocade, the author Naomi Shihab Nye expresses this beautifully:
“The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.”
The table takes us from transactional to transformational. It is a place of healing and rest, a place of anticipation and laughter. Regardless of our heritage or faith or legal status, the table is unifying. In short, it reveals to us our way home.