Missing Places at the Table

Many years ago in Northern Europe, people celebrated only two seasons: Winter, which started on November 1st; and Summer, which started on May 1st. In many places in the world, both pre-Christian and Christian communities have celebrated the end of October and the beginning of November as a time to remember our beloved dead.

Once while in California, I was invited to a dinner where we brought place-settings and special foods to honor those we had lost. We ate in silence and candle light, communing with those no longer with us. There were tears — and oddly enough laughter — as we recognized the places that those who had gone before still occupied in our lives. We remembered — we reassembled those relationships. It was healing to remember the friends and family that we remember and the ancestors and mentors who helped us become the people we are today.

That was to be the focus of this month’s Peace Pondering.  Then suddenly two events happened that deepened my urgency. One event was described in “just another” article about the devastation of the War against Ukraine. The other was the explosive beginning of what has now become a full-on war in the Middle East. These two violent events, both ongoing, caused me to envision a long table, with settings both lavish and simple with as many empty seats as full. Every empty seat represents a casualty of life or of war. The table is long enough to help us all realize that every person still present was unbalanced by their grievous loss. Deaths of illness, accident, and age, while they may be sad, are also expected. But deaths of murder and war, whether deliberate or simply additional casualties… these are things this world could grow out of. I believe this. I believe that Peace is possible.

However, as long as we accept war and greed, we will wind up seated at that empty table. As long as we allow those deaths to separate us, they will continue. We, the willing, must interrupt the carnage. First, we the living, must pick up our table settings and move them so that we can sit together to eat, tell stories, and mourn. We must agree that war is not acceptable and that we will not tolerate it, and then we must invite one another to the Peacepath, despite our differences, in the name of those we honor. We would be a great unstoppable force. Do you believe that? I do!  

It might be time to repeat another ritual which takes place on a night when darkness falls early, to light only candles in a darkened room and stand in front of a mirror. Find your reflection and imagine your ancestors lined up behind you, the men on your right, the women on your left. Look at yourself. Imagine them looking at you, whispering: maybe this one will be the one who breaks the family’s “stuckness” and becomes the adventurous, wildly loving, bravely daring Peacemakers she/he/they are meant to be. Maybe this one. Maybe this time.

In the face of so much grief and so much Hope, maybe we can do this together. Maybe we can release revenge and plot for Peace. Who do your ancestors inspire you to be? How can you make a difference for Peace in this warring world? Will you take my hand?

Salaam, Shalom, Peace, Blessed be