I was moving quickly from my last meeting to my plans for the evening---a sporting event on campus. So I decided to pop into one of my favorite local places in order to get something quickly to eat or drink. I knew the sporting event would be starting soon and all my life I have been the kind of person who is almost always on time. Often I will show up early to something, so I won’t be late. It seems that somehow was built into the fabric of my being. I do it automatically; hence, there is no need even to think about it.
So through the doors I went. Obviously, it was dinner hour and the place was pretty full of people and there was a rather loud buzz of noise as people at each table had to speak a little louder in order to be heard above the conversations of the tables nearby. But we all know that never works, because the noise level continues to go up, as if each table competes with neighbors!
I thought about slinking right back out of the doors, when I spotted a couple friends of mine sitting at what would be the first table to pass by as one enters the establishment. So instead of slinking back outside, I stepped on inside to offer my “hello” to my two friends. They are two women now retired from my college…former colleagues, I suppose one would rightly say. That may be true---former colleagues---but that does not make them any less my friends.
I had barely approached to say “hello,” when they immediately said, “Join us.” At the time, I did not think much about it. I did sit down with them. We had a pleasant conversation full of sharing memories, as well as talking about life at the college, which they don’t experience in the same way I do. We managed to speak loudly enough to have the conversation without my feeling that I needed neither a hearing aid nor yell at my neighbors to tone it down.
It was a fun visit causing me to leave a good bit later than I had planned. I did make it to the sporting event, which was soon over. On the way home, my mind returned to my stop at the local place. Often when I ponder these kinds of experiences, the superficial observations surface immediately. In this case I knew it had been good to say hello and to have the conversation. I did not mind missing a good bit of the sporting event. At the superficial level, I could say that it was pleasant and leave it at that.
But so many of our experiences have more depth than the mere superficial. And often at those deeper levels, there we find the spiritual aspect or dimension. So I pondered further as I delved deeper into my transitional stop at the restaurant. What really happened? What did I really experience? Slowly the profundity began to emerge.
Those two friends included me when I showed up. Two simple words created a fascinating process. When they said, “Join us,” my plans changed significantly. They were offering table fellowship---in this case, literally they were offering table fellowship. They included me.
I was alone and they included me. I like being alone. After all, when I do psychological tests, I always type out as an introvert. So I am good with that. When I entered those doors, I was not looking for anything from anybody. “Join us,” they said. It was an offer. It was an invitation. It was really a question: do you want to join us? It was a choice. That is the way true inclusiveness should work.
True inclusiveness should not have any elements of coerciveness in it. I think authentic inclusiveness should not even harbor expectations. Real inclusiveness should simply be that invitation: “Join us.” In fact, I think it makes a difference that there were two of them. They did not need anyone else. Doubtlessly, they went there only to have dinner for themselves. They had not planned on inviting anyone else into the table fellowship. Truly, they did not need me.
But they never hesitated. “Join us,” was their offer. I could have said no. I could have exercised that choice and they would not have been disappointed; they would have been fine. They offered table fellowship, to be sure. But was there something even deeper?
Yes there was something deeper. Their inclusiveness was not just an offer of the chair at the table. It was a chance to join them at the altar of their hearts. To see it as such moves the encounter from the pleasant to the sacred. I not only took the chair; I took a place in the center---the center of their conversation, the center of their communication, indeed, the center of their communion.
They taught me a deep lesson about inclusiveness. It could change the world. It changed me. If we include, we could change the world.