Thanksgiving Reflection: A Table in the Presence
“You have prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies”
Watching my teenage son perform in his first-ever school play this weekend, I was recalling my own high school drama club years. Actually, my husband Matt and I were both involved in drama when we were in high school and living in Baldwin, New York on Long Island in the late 80's and early 90's. We even co-directed a play together as we were falling in love during one of those years. If opposites attract, that must have been partly our case. Matt resembled a Henry Higgins character in more ways than one, and he also played that part in our school’s My Fair Lady production, whilst I was cast as the Scottish maid. He was the co-captain of the basketball team and the valedictorian of our class. I, on the other hand, was considerably overweight with a red afro, and was by no stretch of anyone’s imagination popular or athletic. I was reflective, relational, and artsy. However, my main goals back then were mainly about avoiding people who might tease me and coping with my anxieties in various unhealthy, yet creative ways. You might find me cutting a class, smoking, and writing poetry with a like-minded soul during school. Life can be hard for those who feel like misfits.
So how does this relate to a table reflection? Well, we had two cafeterias in Baldwin High School, Cafeteria A and Cafeteria B. Cafeteria A was very large, and sadly as I recall, people often sat in segregated groupings racially as well as otherwise. There were definitely ‘popular people’ and various cliques easily identified by different tables in Cafeteria A. It could be an intimidating place for anyone overwhelmed by large groups, not feeling like they ‘fit in,’ or who knew they were at risk of being mocked in some way.
In contrast, Cafeteria B was smaller and a more intermingled group of people for whom Cafeteria A had no appeal, was intimidating, or just seemed relationally unsafe. Surely different experiences and feelings brought people in to become Cafeteria B dwellers, but one thing was for sure – it was a safe place to just ‘be’ who one was. In Cafeteria B one could find those who were shy, odd-balls, nerdier, creative-y, or maybe dressed like a vampire or with dyed hair. It was the place where the ‘out-of-the-box’ ones ate lunch or chilled-out during off periods. Welcoming tables were always there for such ones to come and rest, restore, and perhaps remember they were not the only misfits. There seemed an unspoken accepted rule that it was a harm-free safe zone where people could let their guard down and be themselves.
Right in the middle of the high school building that for many was full of some felt enemies, socially risky situations and toxic-behaving people – was Cafeteria B providing ‘tables in the presence’ of whatever was making life harder. It was a secure hiding place, the ‘safety base’ for all who needed one. Its parameters were sort of like an invisible shield. Behind that force field people often enjoyed the freedom to share who they ‘really’ were – humor, tears, songs, poems, and oddest ideas were many times shared among an eclectic group gathering at any one of the tables inside. I remember meeting a new student named Jessica there who had a white-girl afro like mine – we connected immediately discussing our unique plight. If people accidentally spit while talking, farted while giggling, or said an awkward wrong thing – they were still going to be okay. Healing, hilarious, transformative relational ‘be-ing’ happened in Cafeteria B.
I didn’t realize then how much Cafeteria B reflected God’s heart. Though the view may get distorted in this sin-full world, God is always prepared and desiring to ‘be’ with us, to host us with his understanding and compassion. Right in the midst of all that scares, stresses, confuses, hurts, or leaves us feeling rejected - is God yearning to remind us that we are one-of-a-kind masterpieces made to unveil, discover and share our true selves freely in his love. The Spirit is there in the messes around us, or when we feel like weirdo messes within ourselves. God’s heart of love is the best hiding place for our hearts.
Doesn’t our world need more Christians ‘known by their love’, who host Cafeteria B spaces where the love of Christ is welcomed along with misfits, misunderstood, unheard, or those needing to feel unconditionally cared about and not pressured to artificially box themselves in some exact form to be accepted. We desire others to experience the shielding love of the invisible God that sets the oppressed free. That’s the focus, not trying to get others to conform to a certain type of cultural lifestyle norms before they can encounter what brings freedom. Similarly, doesn’t the world need more of those who dine in both Cafeteria A’s and B’s – seeking to bridge gaps, break down dividing walls? True Christian love is an appetizing invitation to new discoveries of self, God and others dining with the divine host.
Despite Matt’s Cafeteria A status, he started engaging with me and others in Cafeteria B. I shared my ‘messy’ faith with him, and he inspired me to go to classes and consider how I shouldn’t underestimate my ability to be a great student. The play we co-directed was ‘You Can’t Take It With You.’ Its about a zany group of misfits who become a family of sorts, focusing foremost on love and relational wealth as the greatest richness of all. The show debuted in ‘circle in the round’ style - and you know where? Not on a stage, but right there in beloved Cafeteria B! I had no idea how that show was foreshadowing my understanding of the upside-down Kingdom, as well as our own biological family unit of complicated creative children. But I give thanks this holiday. And we all can welcome in more of such love (that is always welcoming us to the table for more) this Thanksgiving.
Let true love fall freshly - taste, see, share
'Spirit, fall afresh on me'