Reflection on the Table

When we encounter someone very different from ourselves we may first spot how they are unlike me…But really to hear what they say, I must delight in the difference and see it as another place in which to stand and look up.  I can tiptoe onto their ground, imagine myself at home in their home, and discover an open roof above and the infinity that it discloses.       

Timothy Radcliffe, OP, What is the Point of Being Christian, 185-186 

I have always been intrigued by the story of St. Dominic and his engagement with the innkeeper.  I imagine at a large wooden table, with a bottle of Spanish red, some fine bread and olive oil, and maybe a hunk of cheese.  Back and forth the conversation went as each heard the other in an atmosphere of respect, compassion, seeking understanding.  Into the night they talked, the story goes, until the innkeeper came to understand and embrace Dominic’s preaching about the goodness of all God’s creation—human and beyond.  Would you like to have been a fly on the wall or a little mouse in the corner?

I wonder if we sometimes forget the power of a table to bring us humans together:

  • The Eucharistic Table – how much we missed, in these pandemic days of quarantine, the ability to gather as community around the table of the Lord.  Live streaming or remotely participating soon became, for some, hollow.  We trusted in our participation to receive Spiritual Communion, but we came to know on a very visceral level how much we missed the Eucharistic community of which we are a part.
  • The Family Table – We missed, really missed breaking bread and sharing food and drink with our families.  Whether it was the turkey at Thanksgiving, the tamales at Christmas, the BBQ at the Super Bowl—and multiple Graduations and Baptisms and Weddings and all manner of celebrations—reminded us that we humans are by nature social and all this quarantine and stay at home made us restive.
  • The Civic Table – Oh, it seems this table is a Sunday dinner gone way bad.  Here we need to craft conversations about systemic injustice—people of color, women, economic inequality.  If we are folks of privilege, we need to hear and learn from those who have suffered, who have overheard or been the brunt of disparaging comments and “jokes” (which are anything but funny).  Then there is the political divide and the resurgence of white supremacy and even Nazi ideology.  Our challenge is to bring civil conversation back to our civic tables.
  • The Library Table – Libraries are places of quiet steeped in an atmosphere of learning.  Curling up with a good book, reading a newspaper, learning about other places and times and people, reading a good novel or escaping into some fantasy or unraveling a mystery.  Now we get our news in snippets, highly edited.  And it only takes a few views on You Tube to figure out that the algorithm embedded in it “feeds” you what it thinks you are interested in.  Our challenge is to digitally detox, to use the Dominican value of study to expose ourselves to the opinions of others (not just those which agree with our own), wander in the garden of another (figuratively), and widen the flaps of our tents.

Dominic and the pubkeeper stayed at the table, neither left in a huff or decided they were just “done.”  Such is our challenge in these fractious days—to stay at the table in a common search for truth.  As Brother Timothy reminds us:

Dominic founded the Order in a pub arguing with the pubkeeper.  They debated all night long and Dominic cannot have spent all the time saying “you are wrong, you are wrong.”  One only goes on arguing because the other person is also in some sense right.   We argue not to win but so that the truth can win. (pg. 114)

Abby Newton, O.P., San Rafael Dominican