The table was set with unfussy Corelle dishes, yellow paisley cloth napkins, and water glasses. One of the pastor’s sons, a colleague of mine from the university, pulled a gallon plastic jug of water out of the refrigerator and started filling the water glasses. “It’s not filtered water. I just like it cold,” Pastor Ken Smith laughed as he greeted me with a warm handshake and pulled me gently but firmly over the threshold. This was one of my first experiences of a Christian family feast, one that included the Smith family, other brothers and sisters from the church, and me. The room hummed with grown-up laughter and the sing-song of children’s voices. It had been so very long since I had experienced the sound of men’s voices laughing and the delight of a child’s giggle. While I proclaimed the value of diversity, my community was entirely composed of white thirty-something lesbian Ph.D.s in the humanities. Children dragged in extra chairs. Bowls were overflowing with Floy Smith’s steaming and savory sweet-and-sour soybeans, and Ken herded us to the table with a gentle but firm touch. When we all sat down and pulled up our mix-and-match chairs to the long family table, no elbow room remained. It was intimate but not stuffy. The conversation was marked with edgy questions of the day (on which I took an opposing side) and Bible verses and principles, some that stood as answers and others that opened more questions. It seemed to me that Pastor Ken Smith and these other Christians used the Bible both for reference and for lingering long. We ate and talked and laughed. And then we sang Psalm 23.
Voices in all four parts to the tune of Crimond rang strong and right as rain. And when we sang, “A table Thou has furnished me, in presence of my foes,” I started to lose my sense of which way was up. I started to get all turned around, as if I had absentmindedly taken the wrong path on a well-walked trail. I was trained to play the part of the victim and to perceive myself as a “sexual minority,” voiceless among the voiced. As we sang, I said to myself, “Yes, dear victim, here you are in the presence of your foes, these awful hateful people who want to trample on your rights.” But even though victimhood served as my catechism, I couldn’t make myself believe this while singing Psalm 23. Something wasn’t right. And that’s when it dawned on me that I, the English professor, was misreading the text. I wasn’t the one dining in the presence of my enemies. I was the enemy.
Dinner concluded with prayer. Prayer was reverent and steady. There were natural pauses and unhurried reflections as these Christians shared their hearts with each other and with God. The unyielding and unanswered questions that had marked the earlier part of this evening were now put into the hand of God. They were neither swept under the rug nor turned into objects of obsession and grief. At the final “amen,” someone said, “Let’s sing Psalm 122.” Most of the people had this one memorized too, but Floy gently touched my arm and placed an open Psalter in my hands. And so with gusto and confidence, voices raised in song once again: “I was glad to hear them saying ‘to the Lord’s house let us go.’ For our feet will soon be standing in your gates Jerusalem. . . . In your palaces be safety, for the sake of brothers all, for the sake of my companions, I am saying, ‘Peace to you!’ ” At the psalm’s conclusion, someone said something that I didn’t understand at the time. He said, “This is my pilgrim’s journey.”