Belonging Happens Around the Table

Keli Miller

Published 29 August 2022

There is a sticky note stuck to the bottom of my computer screen, it reads “Social change moves at the speed of relationships. Relationships move at the speed of trust.” I stuck it there to remind me to be present in the day to day, it serves as a daily conviction to slow down. Part of the mission of L’Arche is to “make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities” and to “work together toward a more human society.” We aim to create communities where everyone belongs. This is slow, steady work. I don’t know about you, but so often I want to rush through the process. I see the end and I’m ready to skip my way to the finish line.

The change we are wanting to see in our World cannot be manufactured but rather comes about through the sharing of everyday ordinary moments and the sharing of ourselves. Belonging happens in the home, it happens over time, and over many shared meals.

8 months ago, I moved to Chicago to start my work with L’Arche. In addition to getting to know L’Arche as a community and Chicago as a city I have been intentionally trying to build friendships for myself to make this city feel like somewhere I belonged and could call home. Much of my efforts have been centered around setting up coffee dates, going out to see a show or grabbing dinner at some trendy restaurant. Simultaneously exploring a new city and new relationships. These are all fine enough but having people to do activities with didn’t necessarily equate to feeling “at home” in Chicago for me.

I noticed myself longing for mundane moments shared with others. Moments in the kitchen, washing dishes, reflecting on the day together or being familiar enough to simply walk into a friend’s home, crash on the couch and just be. I found myself desiring comfortable silence with an old friend. I wanted to experience familiarity and a sense of belonging to something other than myself.

My first invitation into someone’s home came from L’Arche. Inviting guests over for dinner is common practice at L’Arche, with each home coming together for dinner every night much of community life happens around the table. It has become the heartbeat of our community.

I will never forget the feeling of leaving my first dinner. It was life-giving to be invited into another’s home and to be hosted by another. I left feeling not just physically full, but spiritually nourished and hopeful that I too could belong in this place.

As we work towards our mission at L’Arche the ask of our community members is simple, but crucial. To come as you are and to be with others, sharing in need and care. When I reflect on my first shared meals with my L’Arche community I am reminded of Nouwen’s words,

“We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.”

That is how we build trust in our relationships. And it is those relationships that will in turn foster dignity and inclusion leading to the social change that we long to see.

This is not fast work, but it is holy work, where God’s face can be seen in another and belonging can be found for everyone.