Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"there's room at the table..."

"Let our hearts
not be hardened
to those living on the margins,
there is room at the table
for everyone..."

Sometimes a Carrie Newcomer song, like "Room at the Table" is all it takes to readjust the balance of things -- on the side of humanity.

Being the granddaughter of immigrants is a common badge that I share with millions of men, women, and children. I know that this does not make me "special," but for some reason I've always felt special because of it. My connection to Ireland feels less diluted because I know that I've actually been held by grandparents who'd made that long voyage across the Atlantic. I've imagined that my eyes are a particular shade of blue that is only found in tide pools at the base of the Cliffs of Moher. I dream of Irish poets and feel most "in my skin" when the the sky lowers into a sea of slate gray and is heavy with rain.  I want to believe that I would understand Gaelic at a cellular level, and that Celtic music echoes through my veins.

I know that I don't look foreign to my neighbors. My maiden name doesn't alarm anyone. I don't have to hide my ancestry, or worry that I will be called a lazy Mick -- like my grandfathers did. I rarely hear jokes about my countrymen.  And I don't have to wonder if my grandsons would be employable if their surnames were decidedly Irish.

But it is never far from my heart that I am the granddaughter of Irish immigrants. About ten years ago, my sister did research I'd never done. She traced our family tree, was able to find an early New York Times newspaper article about our grandmother, and laid out a soft map of how we'd found our way from the west coast of Ireland to Ellis Island, Brooklyn, and rural New Jersey. She photo-copied documents and photos, and sent them to me as a birthday gift. Those papers are precious to me.

But how would I be feeling today if the United States felt threatened by Ireland and my status as a citizen were at risk? What if my daughters were detained, threatened with deportation, or held for questioning about their religious beliefs -- just because our family entered this country as immigrants? Would I be proudly sharing our family tree with my children? How would I explain to them why it mattered that their Irish-Catholic great-grandparents and their Irish-Protestant ancestors may have once embraced beliefs that now put them - and their sense of home - in jeopardy.

I read news reports, watch videos, hear heart-breaking stories of immigrants being persecuted for no other reason than because of their country of origin or religious lineage.  And it takes everything in me to stay calmly focused on solutions rather than weeping with frustrated rage. So far, I am able to keep the paralyzing feelings of sorrow and helplessness at bay, and pray without ceasing.

We are all children of one Father-Mother God. I remember hearing an interview with a Messianic Rabbi some years ago. The interviewer asked him a question that I'd long-wondered about. He asked the Rabbi why Jesus -- a good Jewish boy who knew the Torah, went to temple, was known to have spent time in conversation with lawyers and rabbis, and was doing good things in the community -- was not a legitimate candidate for the Messiahship by the temple leaders of his time.

The Rabbi replied that a Messiah was more than a just good Jew. A Messiah needed to be a nationalistic leader. He needed to defend the Jewish nation as "the chosen people." He needed to believe that they alone were the rightful heirs to "the promised land," and that it should be his sole responsibility to serve "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Whether this was a theologically accepted view of "why," or just this Rabbi's take on it, it made sense to me.

At the beginning of his ministry, it seems that Jesus is on track with this path towards fulfilling his Messianic calling. But there is a decided shift that seems to take place. In one instance, we see him dismissing a Canaanite woman who asks him for help. Yet this is a mother, and she doesn't slink away after having been rebuked for her boldness in approaching the Master. She questions him, "are not even the dogs worthy of the crumbs that fall from the master's table?" And he humbly reconsiders his response to her, saying: "O woman, great is thy faith..." 

Before long we see him referencing Samaritans -- strangers -- in his parable about how to treat others. He tells those following him that a Centurion "gets it" and that he has "not seen such great faith -- no, not in Israel."

In traveling from Judaea to Galilee, crossing through Samaria, he asks a woman to draw water from a well that he might quench his thirst, and spiritually assuage hers -- her surprise is unfeigned, the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans -- but he did. He acknowledges the gratitude of Samaritan, who who returns to give thanks when the nine others - who are healed - do not. 

He allows himself to be touched by a woman with an issue of blood, calls her out of the crowd, and celebrates her faith -- an act unimaginable in the culture and times he has grown up in. He recommends the behavior of a publican who shows greater humility than a Pharisee, and when the Romans and Greeks come seeking him during a feast, he knows his time has come. He has boldly crossed the borders of geography, ethnicity, gender, and socio-religious norms. His leadership has endured beyond his own brief span of "time in office."

I still have so much to learn from this man who, as Mary Baker Eddy writes, "defined love." I think I will be discovering new ways to love through the Scriptural record of his actions -- forever.  His admonition to "go and do likewise" in following the footsteps of a good Samaritan who cares for a wounded stranger, puts him on his own donkey, and provides for his lodging and board as he recovers -- is clear. His suggestion that if we have done "these things -- feed, shelter, care for -- one of the least among us, we have done it unto [him]," leaves no question, for me, about how we are to treat others.  The examples of his humanity never cease to humble me in my own efforts to love generously, share selflessly, and pray without ceasing.

If I am leaving the least among us out of the feast,  if my heart is hardened to the plight of those living on the margins, I have lost my way. At this table that has been prepared for us, in the wilderness of a messy world, there is room for everyone. May we never forget that we -- or our ancestors -- were once waiting to be welcomed.

offered with Love,


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