We are strangers to each other. We know each other’s names. We can sketch some truths about the other out. But more often than not there are secrets so deep and movements of the heart so hidden that we remain strangers. Many times I have noticed this in conversation. Someone I thought I knew well reveals a secret deeply buried. Or in conversation I discover that I know more about a person than someone who has sat in the same pew for a generation. There is a hidden-ness to our lives.
We catch glimpses of this hidden-ness when anxieties show. We get windows into the soul when tears unexpectedly flow. Hints – if we pay attention – create moments of compassion and grace. Our response to tears is usually a desire to comfort. Our response to anxiety is usually a desire to ease the difficulty. When the heart opens for even a moment, our hearts reveal the desire to show compassion.
Hospitality is a way of grace. It is creating safe compassionate places to free the soul to become more human, where sinners are loved into wholeness and where the self-assured can become more Christ-assured. Let’s face it... we are all hard to love sometimes. In our anxiety, we become defensive. We easily set up walls to protect our vulnerability.
But hospitality is not easy. I’ve been listening to the Story of Edgar Sawtelle. At one point it speaks about coaxing a stray dog out of the forest. It was hard. The Sawtelles imagined that the dog had a hard life, perhaps it was treated so badly that it simply did not trust another human. It had secrets. The Stray lived with a question: was it safe to trust humans? Hospitality is the hard work of creating space where trust is possible.
Jesus was hospitable to the Samaritan woman. He acted contrary to expected norms. Stunned her heart with speaking truth and yet showing compassion. He offered her water – life water. Creating space for her to live again. Grace that forgives and renews. Grace that breathes of love.
There are few safe places – saving places where we are coaxed back into our created humanness, restored to life.
So I ask myself, what is needed for hospitality to go beyond the superficialities of entertaining and greeting to offer genuine hospitality? Here are a few suggestions:
- Dealing with our own anxiety. We have secrets. We have fears. We want to remain hidden. It is hard to create space for others when we hide behind the walls of our own making.
- Seeing the other as loved by God. The one before you is not simply stranger or a threat but one who is loved by a friend of ours. I find it interesting how I and others react when we discover we have mutual friends. Suddenly we are closer. The conversation warms up. We share experiences. Our friend, Jesus knows both the stranger and me. We are loved by the same person.
- Seeing myself and others as vulnerable. Vulnerability is both an open door that allows us to reach each other with compassion and closed bolted door that is secured with systems of defence. There is always a question about how to respond. To see each other as vulnerable is to recognize the internal tension we feel and gives us permission not to judge, work harder at creating a safe place and being patient along the way.
- A willingness to be faithful, to keep covenant . People take time to open up. People take time to trust. And always the fundamental question is: will I (we) be loved? To be faithful is to keep going in the relationship as it goes through tough times. M. Scott Peck talked about the four phases of community: pseudo-community, dissonance, self-emptying, community. In order to go through the stages to reach community one needs to have the commitment to stay with the people. Dissonance is hard. We see flaws. We have disagreements. We would rather just leave. Keeping faith with each other is essential. Hospitality is not just about being nice superficially. It creates community.
Hospitality is more than a welcoming word. It is an invitation to belonging. It is a movement from stranger and friend, from not belonging to belonging, from fear to love, from hostile to safe. And the question is: how can I grow in this grace?