The Table Is One

The Table has always been here, as long as I remember, set beneath the trees, seats for everyone who comes. The Table is, in fact, many tables—lined up, one after another, stretching across the grass and around the corners, beyond sight and familiarity—but the Table is one.

I remember my first seat at the Table, snug between my parents—warm, familiar, safe. The Table was home. I belonged. Everyone was family, regardless of blood, and smiles across the broken bread enveloped me in love. I visited other seats at other tables as life went on—different settings and different seats, different smells and tastes and smiles. Yet all were part of the Table because, I was told, the Table is His and He offers everyone a seat.

Then I came out-out of the quiet, out to myself, out into the light. I wondered if I could still come to the Table. I could come, you said, just as I am, but with just one plea, that I put that part of me onto the cross and “be free”. And so I nailed it there, crucifying that unwelcome “part”, but with each new day, it returned, untouched, unchanged. 

What was I doing wrong? Why couldn’t I be free? I pleaded for answers. I was told that I lacked faith. That I lacked will. That I lacked the right kind of desire. And yet, with each rebirth it grew stronger, it grew truer, over-growing those things that you told me I must be, until I accepted the resurrection: in me, of me, scars and all.

So I celebrate, worship the God in whose queer image I am created, liberated from the scandal of lust into the sanctity of desire. I find in that very aspect of my being, not the height of brokenness, but the deepest of hopes, the promise of wholeness. I sing my liberty to the Table, opening my arms to share the joy and then…

The shrieking of my chair screams “Unclean! Perverse! Deviant and disordered!” as it is dragged back and away from the Table. I look to you, desperate and you call to the others for compassion, for love. For a moment I feel safe as you stand in the gap, a thin tether to the Table. And I hope.

But then you turn to me, your disappointment and disdain a verdict written across your face. You quietly urge me to tone it down, dial it back, meet you halfway- each suggestion an ultimatum, threatening to erode who I am, who I Am made me. An insidious invitation—death by a thousand compromises, suicide by self-erasure. And yet I nod, anything to stay at the Table.

I try your way. I try because I love you. I try because I’m scared. “Almost there,” I am told, as my soul is drained away. “One more blood-letting,” I am promised, as each drop falls into a bottomless pit. I try your way and I am diminished, my broken body longing for broken bread, the chalice of my spirit parched and yearning. You offer me a poisoned communion, then spurn me as ungrateful when I refuse.

So, cast into the cold waters of an unfinished baptism, the waves drag me down. You stand at the rail, and your words of sympathy cling to me like anchors. Sympathy has never saved a single soul from drowning, but yours is not meant to save—it absolves only you, twisting the roles of responsibility as you watch me reap what you sowed.

Then I feel their hands upon me, the outcasts reaching out, pulling me from the waters and onto warm sands and into open arms. In the embrace of common suffering and mutual hope, I am restored to life and once again invited to the Table—not your table—distant and invisible, apart but indivisible. You wipe your hands of me, and the dust is shaken from my feet.

I have a new seat at the Table now-warm, familiar, safe. I am beloved and I belong. The Table is home. You belong at the Table. The Table does not belong to you. It does not belong to me. The Table is Theirs and so it is ours. The Table is one.

(The Table Is One, by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, 2019, originally published at Jamie Arpin-Ricci)