I live near the city’s downtown, where many of our socially vulnerable and street-involved friends live. Some I know through community involvement and work, others through community house living, and others through my church which focuses primarily on loving the poor and excluded.
Some are homeless, some are struggling with isolation, others with depression, addiction, stress, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, and more. Some I see passing my porch steps asking me for bus tickets or help with food. Some are without home entirely, and others have physical shelter but nothing that feels like a home.
In listening to many of the stories shares, I have learned a bit about what it might feel like to stay in a shelter. I’ve been told that home does not really feel like home when your bag of belongings is stored in a secure locker and you can’t get it without staff retrieving it for you. That home doesn’t feel like home when your shoes sit alone under the metal-framed bed, you have to ask permission to come and go after curfew hours, and you share your bedroom with 5-6 men or women you’ve never met before, a dorm room where it’s hard to find a quiet hour in the night. Where once you head out the door in the morning, you are on your own for the day, wandering the city, until you can go back that night to see if you can check in for another bed.
Sounds quite different than the lives many of us know. And yet, in the midst of having very different experiences of what it means to go ‘home’ at night to our bed, what do we all have in common? As human beings, we seek togetherness and we love being at the ‘table’ together; we desire to be in the centre of family, friendship, community, and a sense of acceptance, safety, and love.
I began writing this story on a winter’s night when the street outside our church was bitterly cold and covered in white snow from the ground up to the sky. Swirling and windy, it was not a night to spend outside. The image of wandering the streets that night made me think of cold, loneliness, isolation, hunger. Differently, sitting around a dining room table sharing food and conversation with friends conjures up feelings of of hope, support, friendship, warmth, companionship, love. Sharing life together. How does one translate into the other? How do we create relationships that bring those in places of isolation and hopelessness into being ‘at the table’ together?
Imagine a table that spans the length of your dining room, the whole main floor of your house, the whole street outside your front door, the entire city, province, country, world, and every person you know and long to know is sitting there, together. There is room for everyone. Food for everyone. Conversation for everyone. No one left out. No one forgotten. No one ridiculed, begrudged, pushed away, or excluded.
Invitation to the table means “you matter to me.” The table says “we want to know you” and “thanks for being here.” The table says “you belong with us.”
A beautiful dream. I believe that at the core of humanity is this very depth of love. We only need to find a way to pour out that kind of beautiful invitation. How will you bridge the gap between your table and the downtown winter streets, or any other places where loneliness resides? How will you make a sense of home reality for those who have never known it? Who will you invite to your table today?