Growing up, our table was always filled with friend and stranger. While we lived far from our own families of origin, we were never at a loss for family because, through the sharing of meals, a beautiful and unique family arose.
At that table, we prayed together, savored dishes from around the world, and learned about the ways in which holidays and holy days were celebrated in each person’s culture. People would often bring token gifts, but it was their presence that we all appreciated most. Each person brought to the table gifts of themselves—personal gifts, spiritual gifts, and cultural riches.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius speaks of the necessity of reciprocity in relationship. He says, “Love consists of sharing what one has and what one is with those one loves.” While Ignatius is referring to one’s relationship with God, his advice is applicable to all relationships. The people at our table shared precisely in this manner; they shared of what they had and what they were. In so doing, they grew to love each other.
Years later, I knew I had found home when my coworkers in refugee resettlement shared in the same manner around holidays and holy days. From all over the world, with varied tongues, cultures, and religions, we came together as one family at one table. We continue to treasure each other and the unique and irreplaceable gifts that each of us brings to the table.
Coming together at table in such a way is a very powerful action, perhaps because it is a reflection of the heavenly banquet of the Lord:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever. (Isaiah 25:6–8)
At his table, the Lord provides for all peoples and destroys everything that separates. On the mountain of the Lord, there are no walls or divisions. All come together.
Of course, this theme is continued through Christ in the New Covenant too. Theologian-philosopher Fr. Henri Nouwen said, “For Jesus, no countries are to be conquered, no ideologies are to be imposed, no people are to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.” (Twomey and Pomerleau, Remembering Henri)
In the end, we are just loved. One people at one table. United by Love.