There is a story in Scripture of this time when Jesus saw a group of ten lepers –those most down and out, sick in body, rejected by the majority culture, alone and hopeless in their segregated community. In the story, they all receive the same blessing—that of a fresh start, a return to health and the possibility of an end to their social awkwardness and isolation. But if or how each one experiences gratitude in their hearts for this grace-filled occurrence, the story does not say. It only says that one of them runs back to express thanksgiving in the moment. Sometimes it takes awhile to get to gratitude for a variety of reasons.
How have you been challenged by the brokenness of parts of your life and when have you found a measure of healing and/or a grateful spirit? No doubt you have had those moments in time when the practice of gratitude came easily to you, maybe because of abundant blessings or a longed for reconciliation, or a healing of an illness or separation was occurring. But how do we practice gratitude when we are sick or lonely or afraid or deprived or poor or lost? As we consider what it means to be invited to the welcome table of grace and forgiveness and healing and belonging, I have found that it often takes time and sometimes a significant amount of effort to get to gratitude if the healing is yet to be, or worse, if it seems faraway and impossible. Still I want to work on it. Not pressured in facile surface ways to give lip service to aphorisms like “it is all good, just think positively, just count your blessings.” It’s been my experience that sometimes part of experiencing deep healing and honest, humble gratitude means that I need to be awake. And being awake often requires digging deeper to find the hidden blessing. I believe what Job said to his wife in the middle of his suffering, that we may not just expect to accept the good and not also know the bad, and I know that there were/are those times in my life and I suspect there are/were in your life, too, when you were completely broken all apart and when somehow, inside all of that were unexplainable new beautiful things made out of all the shattered pieces. But still, that is a hard saying.
So, as much as possible, do be thankful every day, deeply and truly, for all good gifts and as we are able, may we also breathe into disillusionment and silence and frailty, and believe that one sweet day, if we do not give up, the truth will make us all free. And may we sooner or later get to gratitude for the challenges to our assumptions and self-righteousness and pat answers and easy arrogance. May our brokenness be healed in a joyful, somber, mysterious, full, and empty gratitude. And not just when we’ve gotten good news or had an easy year, but also when we eat the delicious salty ambiguity of our own tears that still could be a measure of some sort of scarred up healing. May we know grace offered time and again even before we realize we need it and live gratefully because a heart of gratitude shapes us and often, our circumstances, too. Will we choose to be grateful in this and every season of life? Will we gather up the broken parts of our souls and lives and bring them to the table too.
SONG “Il Silenzio” Rossi Nini
II. Getting to Healing via the Path of Gratitude
The poet and prophet Leonard Cohen wrote the song “Come Healing,” that our friends will share with us in a moment as a prayer for healing and gratitude, and I invite you to ponder its profound messages. I don’t understand it, but I believe it is true what Cohen and other prophets teach —it is when you and I gather up our brokenness and bring it to the consciousness of our lives, that we also find healing. It is the acknowledgement of the splinters under our skin and the crosses we carry and the promises we did not realize and the vulnerability that is/ which also bears within the healing needed. Come healing of the body, come healing of the mind.
The upside down table is the visual image of what Cohen describes as the gates of mercy in arbitrary space—life is often random. In the mystery, none of us deserves the cruelty that happens. None of us deserves the grace, either. He sees our human embodied lives, as do the Scriptures, as troubled dust—concealing sometimes the undivided love of God—and within our hearts, the possibilities for healing the broken heart above—to the degree that we pour out love for one another, so is the broken heart of the Holy One put back together—the truest manifest of divinity demonstrated when we are creators of justice and joy. Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst of them.” Come healing of the altar, come healing of the name. They will know we’re God’s people—not by our talk or our teaching, but by our love.
Song “Come Healing” Leonard Cohen
III. The Liturgy of the Upside Down Table
So finally, what does it mean, the upside down welcome table? It is a symbolic table of memory–the table where the saints who have gone before us still commune with our spirits through their influence and teachings. No doubt you often feel the presence of those absent when you gather at your own table. It is the table of bounteous fruit and natural beauty, given to us by the kind and generous Mother Earth, the home of all harvest. It is the table of plenty and inclusion, where as we make it so, all are invited, where there is room for one more, a place at the table.
And it is upside down because the mystery of life is often like that. Gathering with family—meant to be joyous and nurturing sometimes is not that. Being alone could be lonely, but sometimes it heals. Problems sometimes bring us to peace. Answers sometimes bring only more questions. Sometimes just sitting together brings us to a place of grace and healing.
The descendants of African slaves first coined this phrase, “the welcome table.” For those brutalized and taken from those they loved, that table represented the time when they and all who were left out would be fully welcomed and gathered together in freedom and peace. But it hangs among us upside down to remind us that the welcome table both is and is not yet. The dream of beloved community happens sometimes among us—when our hearts are open, our hands and feet are strong for justice, when we bring all we are, the brokenness, too, and offer it for healing. But the welcome table still is not yet, as well. It is beyond our reach and we have not realized its full potential for building community here, right side up, in the midst of us. Our lives are often broken and whole, at the same time—places where complexity and simplicity mingle, and like the bread and wine of communion, still broken and poured out.
The fancy church word for communion is eucharist, and it means thanksgiving. The first eucharist was Jesus’ last supper on Earth, clearly not a happy feasting occasion as the powers that be began to press upon him and other innocent ones. It was, like times for many today, a time filled with real suffering. And yet it recalls for us the hope that the great table of Love is set for all. And all are invited, and all are welcome.
TABLE SETTING DANCE
Shelly: The Love be with you!
Andy: And also with you!
Shelly: Lift up your hearts!
Andy: We lift them up to the Love!
Shelly: Let us give thanks by being awake: It is right to awaken to the blessing of all that is. To see the full miraculous nature that we sit among friends and strangers and we hear many voices and opinions, that we intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, that we inhabit many worlds at once in this world…
Andy: that we are someone amongst all other someones, and make conversation without saying a word. We are alive in the Presence and thus, we are thankful: everything happens both with us and without us; we are participants and witnesses, all at once.
Shelly: As Jesus did at the last supper, we break bread and take the wine with our friends beside us.
Andy: We are asked in the name of love and justice and peace to break apart our own lives like bread and offer them as gift and to raise the cup and drink it down–the Cup of suffering that is also blessing.
Shelly: Come now to the welcome table. You are invited to discover gratitude. Find peace.
Andy: You are welcome at the table. You are invited to discover gratitude. Find peace.
Getting to Gratitude via the Path of Healing Shelly Wilson 11/26/17