The Welcome Table
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Thanksgiving is a celebration of harvest, heritage, and home. The table is a central gathering place where family and friends share an abundance of food, traditions, and stories.
Growing up in South Dakota, we did not have any relatives within driving distance, so my parents invited people in town who were without family. This included elderly church members who lived alone, and international students from the university in town. My parents contacted the school and asked who might like to spend Thanksgiving with a local family, and we would have 3 to 6 students join our celebration.
The ones I remember best are the group of six Malaysian students we hosted one year, and the three delightful French girls we welcomed another year. We had an unforgettable time getting to know them and learning about their culture. What a wise and thoughtful act on the part of my parents, not only for the students but for our family! Living in a primarily white Midwestern town, we rarely met people of other races and cultures. By seeking out those people and inviting them into our home, my parents gave us a wider view of the world and an appreciation for cultural diversity.
In addition to the fun and fascinating international students, we welcomed widows and other elderly church members who lived alone. They may not have been as lively as the young people, but they brought wise and gentle spirits to our dining table. We learned to honor and serve them, to value and appreciate them, and always to remember them around the holidays when being alone is especially difficult. As I look back on my life, I see how these seeds planted by my parents grew and blossomed in every season. It was a legacy of hospitality, compassion, and generosity.
It’s so easy to reserve our tables for our close friends and family. It’s easier and more comfortable than bringing in an outsider, someone we don’t really know or understand. I know this side of things as well. I see it being played out on a wider scale in our country as division deepens, destroying the sense of community that would heal us all. I see within Christianity a movement of fear, privilege, and distrust, which contradicts the heart of true faith. It would be wise to look at what we are allowing into our homes and serving up around our tables. What are we feasting on?
It is my daily bread to seek peace, wisdom, and grace. It takes discipline to limit my portions of daily news. I know that all change begins with me, so I keep working at it. How can I be a welcoming presence in the world? How can I set a welcome table like Jesus did, inviting all - not to a religion but to a radical humility and love for one another? The religious leaders of his time were appalled by the people he hung out with. Outcasts, mostly. Jesus said to them, “Hey, let’s have lunch together.” Radical in his time, and even now we hear such inclusiveness called “radical.” Something to be feared and avoided. Very uncomfortable for some, obviously.
We starve our souls when we feast on fear, distrust, and self-righteousness. However, when we open the front door to love and welcome those who are different from us, the Universe delivers a feast. We discover the truth about humanity – we are all created and connected by One Love. We first must invite and welcome that Love into ourselves before we can extend it to others.
This Thanksgiving, carve out some time to go into your heart and open a few windows. Breathe deeply and ask for wisdom and grace. Say, “Welcome” to the Love you find there.
Feast or Famine,
Elisa J. Juarez