Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The universal table

One of my classmates sent us all a quote from James Hillman: "How far can our love extend to the broken and ruined parts of ourselves....How far can we build an inner society on the principle of love, allowing a place for everyone?"

She then made this observation: "I have thought of inclusivity and making a place at the table as an external activity. When I think of it internally, it also helps to make sense of what people are talking about when they use the word integration."

I love that idea of a place for everyone, of setting an internal table at which all the various parts of us are welcome and invited to converse. And, of course, the 23rd psalm immediately comes to mind:

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I believe I have explained before that the way this blog works is this: I carry my camera with me in my car, and shoot whatever calls to me, uploading the results to my computer along the way. Then, after my morning meditation I sit down at the computer and sift through my photos to see what calls to me. I then post that photo here on the blog and start to write, to see what rises up when I study it more closely.

So I hadn't intended to put the Hillman quote here today. But when I glanced at this photo, it sang to me, so I posted it. It wasn't until it was mounted on the page that I realized this wasn't just a cute picture of alpacas grazing on a neighbor's farm; it's actually a lovely example of the table the Lord has set for us -- providing the grass for the alpacas, the safety of the fence, and a house for them to sleep in. And they in turn provide for us: not just their charm (love those big brown eyes!) but also their milk and their wool. Surely there IS goodness and mercy in that exchange.

And seeing that I realize that the table that has been set for us is not just a table, but an entire earth, and all of us -- both external people and nations and all those internal voices -- are all provided for. Perhaps our job as unique individuals is to observe, accept, and honor the universality of the table, and to be gracious hosts in whatever way we can, contributing to the feeding and conversation with our own unique thoughts and gifts. And the hardest part may NOT be including and welcoming the people outside you who may have done you harm, but rather the task of including and welcoming "the broken and ruined parts of ourselves."

So I invite you to look at the world that way today, if only for a little while. Find a place at some part of the table that pleases you -- a garden, a park, a beach, a corner of your home, a corner table at your local library, a pew in your church -- and sit for a minute. Invite those broken ruined selves within to sit with you and share, even to speak. Gaze kindly at their pockmarked faces and shabby clothes, touch their withered arms with tenderness, and offer them a bit of respite from their tortured lives: a glass of water, a bite of apple, a listening ear... Who knows: they might be overflowing with poetry.

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