Space at the Table
Katie Harmon-McLaughlin of Walnut Creek, CA, USA
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” -John 13:34-35
“The church is not an institution forcing us to follow its rules. It is a community of people inviting us to still our hunger and thirst at its tables” (Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out, Image, 1986, p. 89).
Throughout Lent we have been exploring silence, simplicity, and presence as invitations of apophatic spirituality. In Christian community, these practices come to life in our own relationships. It has taken me time to understand that silence or space in relationship with others can be just as intimate and transformative as expressing myself through words. The balance of both is necessary to nurture spiritual growth in our communities. We often confuse the concept of community with constant expression in togetherness. Sacred community is also for creating space for each other to hear the Holy speak in our own souls.
Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher, shares an experience of how isolating his relationships felt during a period of depression as everyone tried to give him advice. The one truly helpful act for him was a friend who came over regularly to massage his feet, rarely saying a word. “Here’s the deal,” writes Palmer. “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed-to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is” (https://onbeing.org/blog/the-gift-of-presence-the-perils-of-advice/).
Some of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life happened in communal stillness-gazing at a crackling campfire long after the final song was sung, sitting side by side for hours in a hospital waiting room, or enjoying the bird chorus of unfolding morning on a vacation with good friends. When sharing vulnerably with another person, I am always appreciative when I feel that space has been made to really receive what I am saying. Rather than rushing to give input, advice, or tell their own story, the best listeners in my life are willing to linger in the silence with me until the thing I most need to say is finally said.
I wonder how the invitation to Christ might be received differently in our cultures if, rather than always trying to explain and persuade, we offered a space for people to be who they most need to be. May we be witnesses of each other’s souls, making space at every table, for every person, exactly as they are.
I surrender into your love.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. (If that feels like too much at first, choose a time that will be comfortable for you as a starting place, committing to expand that time in future prayer.) Allow the rhythm of your breath to draw you deeper and deeper into silence. As you breathe, claim one sacred word (Christ, peace, grace, trust, etc.) emerging in you as an anchor to return you to the intention of your prayer when your thoughts begin to wander. Gently release the thoughts and images that come, making space for presence to the One who is with you here and now. Release, return, “be vulnerable to divine grace” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10b).
Today’s Prayer for Peace
Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.