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Come to the Table

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. ~ Romans 12:12-13

Scavengers are nature’s clean-up crew. It’s not pretty, but it is definitely necessary. A carcass becomes a banquet table for a variety of animals, once they find it. Some predators, particular those who hunt in packs, will take down prey too big for an individual and thus share the feast. Whether intended or not, this becomes an invitation for any and all to gather. Vultures are the obvious interlopers, but they are not the only birds who may show up. Ravens and crows are clever opportunists who will take advantage of any available source of food. In the southern United States through South America, one likely extra guest at the carrion table is the Crested Caracara. While they have long legs, do a lot of walking on the ground, and scavenge as often as they hunt, they are actually falcons. The one I was able to track down during a brief trip to Texas was nonchalantly nibbling on a roadkill deer with a handful of Black Vultures.

Interestingly, these vultures seem to get along better with this falcon than with their cousins, the Turkey Vulture. While there is obviously competition over a resource, that resource tends to offer abundance, so once it is discovered it only makes sense to share it, whether with your own species or with any who show up. The competition between the vultures is a race to find the carrion. Turkey Vultures have a far better sense of smell, so once a corpse is rotting, they can find it even if it is a mile away. Black Vultures have superior eyesight, so they can find carrion before it smells and thus beat the Turkey Vultures to it. Both vulture species work in teams, while the caracara is more solitary. He shows up to the party with a different skill set. He doesn’t have the advantage of a bare head to keep the messy food off, but he does have a loud cry, so he is the perfect lookout for approaching danger. In return, Black Vultures have been known to preen Crested Caracaras, likely as an act of reciprocity and acceptance.

Our experience with open invitations is typically limited. Our homes may have a place at the table for anyone who is family, or perhaps anyone who shows up, but how often does that happen? More often, we control the invitation. That is the definition of hosting. In our religious tradition, we have the ritual meal of the Eucharist, Holy Communion. The very fact that we have special name for the meal is an indication that we have turned the tables on hosting. We set limits on who is welcome and how one qualifies to approach the table. We act as if we are the hosts, conveniently forgetting that the host is Jesus, likely because we know whom he would invite. If our tables aren’t filled by strangers, and yes, enemies, then we might want to check on who created the guest list.

Prayer: Holy Host, thank you for the invitation to the table, please introduce us to the other guests. Amen.


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