Art by Alanah Morningstar

June has been swirling its way through the world with an unbridled intensity in my world. Band concerts and ball games, kindergarten orientation and musicals, appointments that must be completed before school gives way to summer holidays. National Indigenous Peoples’ Day is offering more opportunities for building relationships, Pride flags are flying, and Juneteeth celebrations African-American emancipation from slavery. My people have been full of emotion, and the headlines and memes seem to suggest that we are not alone. My diagnosis is that there is a collective ache for love and belonging, and that, for many, love and belonging feel tenuous, elusive, scarce.

The world seems strung out and exhausted from the effort of living the last few years. We have been stretched to the edges of ourselves, prone to tantrums and impatience and isolation as coping mechanisms. Collective burnout is both understandable and full of risk and actual harm.

A beautiful friend of mine shared a recording of herself singing “Crowded Table” by The Highwomen. It has been my soundtrack for the month. The chorus names what the God of my understanding whispers to me: “I want a house with a crowded table and a place by the fire for everyone.” And as I try to live this out, it becomes clearer and clearer that love and belonging are not hippy ideals but deeply challenging work.

Full days interrupt the rhythms of sleep and food, and the kids need more of me while there is less time. Inflation is pressing on everyone, and the food banks are calling for more. People have embraced a mentality in the world and on social media that everyone is entitled to my opinion, as distinct from each being entitled to one’s own opinion. All sides of the political spectrum participate in their own versions of cancel culture, entrenching self-righteousness that carelessly writes off the humanity of others. It is dangerous and terrifying and exhausting. I want the world to be softer and kinder, please.

The second verse of the song goes on to say, “If we want a garden, we’re gonna have to sow the seeds.” Every time I sing it, I want to follow this line with a well-placed curse word. Can’t someone else do the work?

The labour of love and belonging takes all the focus and intensity of child-birth. I have to set aside my other priorities and lists. Focus on the human being inside me and in front of me. I have to breathe through waves of irritation and pain. I must make space for others who are different from me, not only in the world, but also inside my body and spirit. Care as much about their suffering and needs as my own. I have to listen at a level that can bring about new life – because it is the only thing that ever will.

A softer and kinder world is only possible if I will take my broken heart and refuse to let it harden. It is a lie that gentleness is weak; vying for power over others with control, violence, and abuse are the weapons of the spiritually weak. If I want a crowded table and a place for everyone, then I have to be radically committed to power that is shared, to honouring boundaries and needs, to the time it takes to listen deeply, and to speaking with thoughtfulness, truth, and compassion.

In a month that aims to bring awareness and possibility in the realms of reconciliation, sexuality, and emancipation, this is not primarily about principles but about people. When love and belonging are scarce, people get desperate. If my love and belonging are built on the exclusion, restriction, silencing or damnation of other people, then there is a miscarriage of community.

I am less interested in your opinions and mine than I am in how much we care about mutual suffering, hope, and commitment to a world of love and belonging. Our words and social media shares and bumper stickers are only worth as much as our lives are consumed with the labour of living them out.

There is not a single being on the earth that my God does not love beyond measure. What makes me think I am called to anything less?

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