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Reflection on the Table

Sr. Abby Newton, OP

Reflection on the Table

In 2021, the Dominican Family is celebrating the 800th anniversary of the death of Our Holy Father St. Dominic during a jubilee year starting on the 6th of January 2021 until the 6th of January 2022. The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael are joining with OPWest Dominican Congregations in celebration by offering monthly reflections on the theme “At Table with St. Dominic,” which is inspired by the Mascarella table, the table on which the first portrait of St. Dominic was painted shortly after his canonization. Fr. Gerard Francisco P. Timoner, OP shared: “We will celebrate St. Dominic, not as a saint alone on a pedestal, but a saint enjoying table fellowship with his brothers, gathered by the same vocation to preach God’s Word and sharing God’s gift of food and drink.”

Sr. Abby Newton, OP offers the following reflection for the June 2021 installation.

When we encounter someone very different from ourselves, we may first spot how they are unlike me…But really to hear what they say, I must delight in the difference and see it as another place in which to stand and lookup.  I can tiptoe onto their ground, imagine myself at home in their home, and discover an open roof above and the infinity that it discloses.          –Timothy Radcliffe, OP, What is the Point of Being Christian, 185-186

I have always been intrigued by the story of St. Dominic and his engagement with the innkeeper.  I imagine a large wooden table, with a bottle of Spanish red, some fine bread and olive oil, and maybe a hunk of cheese.  Back and forth the conversation went as each heard the other in an atmosphere of respect, compassion, seeking understanding.  Into the night they talked, the story goes, until the innkeeper came to understand and embrace Dominic’s preaching about the goodness of all God’s creation—human and beyond.  Would you like to have been a fly on the wall or a little mouse in the corner?

I wonder if we sometimes forget the power of a table to bring us, humans, together:

  • The Eucharistic Table – how much we missed, in these pandemic days of quarantine, the ability to gather as a community around the table of the Lord.  Live streaming or remotely participating soon became, for some, hollow.  We trusted in our participation to receive Spiritual Communion, but we came to know on a very visceral level how much we missed the Eucharistic community of which we are apart.
  • The Family Table – We missed, really missed breaking bread and sharing food and drink with our families.  Whether it was the turkey at Thanksgiving, the tamales at Christmas, the BBQ at the Super Bowl—and multiple Graduations and Baptisms and Weddings and all manner of celebrations—reminded us that we humans are by nature social, and all this quarantine and stay at home made us restive.
  • The Civic Table – Oh, it seems this table is a Sunday dinner gone way bad.  Here we need to craft conversations about systemic injustice—people of color, women, economic inequality.  If we are folks of privilege, we need to hear and learn from those who have suffered, who have overheard or been the brunt of disparaging comments and “jokes” (which are anything but funny).  Then there is the political divide and the resurgence of white supremacy and even Nazi ideology.  Our challenge is to bring civil conversation back to our civic tables.
  • The Library Table – Libraries are places of quiet steeped in an atmosphere of learning.  Curling up with a good book, reading a newspaper, learning about other places and times and people, reading a good novel, or escaping into some fantasy or unraveling a mystery.  Now we get our news in snippets, highly edited.  And it only takes a few views on YouTube to figure out that the algorithm embedded in it “feeds” you what it thinks you are interested in.  Our challenge is to digitally detox, to use the Dominican value of study to expose ourselves to the opinions of others (not just those which agree with our own), wander in the garden of another (figuratively), and widen the flaps of our tents.

Dominic and the innkeeper stayed at the table, neither left in a huff nor decided they were just “done.”  Such is our challenge in these fractious days—to stay at the table in a common search for truth.  As Brother Timothy reminds us:

Dominic founded the Order in an inn arguing with the innkeeper. They debated all night long and Dominic cannot have spent all the time saying “you are wrong, you are wrong.”  One only goes on arguing because the other person is also in some sense right. We argue not to win but so that the truth can win. (pg. 114)






Preachers of  Truth • Love • Justice