Posted by: Banta | November 23, 2015

Room at the table

At millions of Thanksgiving tables this week, gatherings of families and friends will offer up prayers for those who are hungry, cold, homeless and alone. We will pray for for the ill and suffering, for those whose countries are at war, or who have been touched by violence of any kind. We will pray for our service men and women at home and abroad, for all who offer humanitarian aid, and all who govern.

Many of us will have one or more “empty chairs” at the table. Loved ones once occupied these chairs, but they have passed on. Parents, grandparents and friends, some who lived long full lives and some who left us far too soon. We remember them always, but especially around the family table at Thanksgiving. We light candles for them and speak of each one by name.

Given the spirit of inclusion that permeates this season of thanks and gratitude, I am deeply troubled by the frenzy of not-in-my-backyard anxiety and divisiveness that has exploded in the news and over social media in recent days. While Syrian refugees swarm toward any port in the storm, we have allowed fear to poison and divide us, to separate us from our common humanity. Because we fear a terrorist may lurk among them, we say to the hordes of refugees, “No, you are not welcome here.” We have become the very innkeepers who turned away Mary and Joseph when they were most in need.

Weren’t we once refugees ourselves? Have we forgotten Ellis Island? As people who arrived on these shores not more than a few generations ago, from “foreign” countries around the world, do we not intend to honor the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty? “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

When we clasp hands to say grace at family gatherings, we often begin by giving thanks for the “hands around this table.” This Thanksgiving, we stretch our imaginations beyond the walls of our home, to join hearts and hands with those in dark alleys and homeless shelters, in refugee camps and war torn cities. We honor our connection with our brothers and sisters of every nation and faith, and from all walks of life. We honor all those who are different, whose names we cannot pronounce, who believe in other gods.

We are only strangers because we have not yet met, because our worlds have not intersected. Yet for all our different-ness, we have much in common. If we could but walk a mile in the shoes of the “other,” we might see more of our shared humanity: the helplessness of a parent unable to feed her child, the shame of losing one’s home or sleeping under a bridge, the tenderness of a caregiver with his aging father, the fierce devotion to family and country, the pain of loss, the fear of the unknown.

Most of our fear is unwarranted, based on stories we tell ourselves about terrible things that might happen. The media fuels our fear. We start to believe that disaster awaits just around the next corner. Of course we must take reasonable precautions to keep ourselves and our loved ones out of harm’s way. But we cannot allow fear to warp us into turning our backs on good people who need our help. To do so does not make us more safe; it makes us less human.

As Carrie Newcomer reminds us, there is room at the table for everyone.

Metta Prayer



  1. Thank you for sharing this excellent reflection. Your perspective, thankfully, reflects that of many eternal optimists and idealists for whom fear has never been a stumbling block. Inclusiveness is what makes us succeed. Let’s hope we all remember this as we celebrate abundance later this week.

  2. Your eloquence addressing this is a blessing — Thank you so much!

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