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Hospitality Musings

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Hospitality itself is a complex category.  It has much to do with the intersection of the private and the public life.  The stranger is encountered in the public realm, hospitality has to do with the private realm.  In the public realm our lives are intertwined with those of strangers.  The private realm is characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, and intimacy.  Hospitality can function as a point of intersection between the public and the private.

“And do not forget hospitality (kindness) to strangers, for by this, some who, while they were unaware, were worthy to receive angels” Hebrews 13:2 (Aramaic translation).

In Homer’s poem “The Odyssey” we read – ‘Rudeness to a stranger is not decency, poor though he may be, poorer than you.  All wanderers and beggars came from Zeus.  What we can give is slight but the recompense great.’  He goes on to write – ‘The city which forgets how to care for the stranger has forgotten how to care for itself.’

In reflecting on the theme hospitality, we might be led:

  • To discover yet deeper the source of hospitality in God
  • To be attentive more intentionally to God’s presence in our lives
  • To make space in our reflections to welcome our gifts and our limitations
  • To commit ourselves to finding places of friendship that are wide enough to include those who are different from  us.

Henri Nouwen wrote: “The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create an emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free, free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.  Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.”

We are called to embark on a journey of practising a generous hospitality … “whatever you did for one of these my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Matthew 25: 4-0 – 45).  One of Lynn Bowman’s translations of the psalms – psalm 16 speaks clearly to me of the challenge of hospitality, and I share his translation of psalm 16.  Following the psalm is a mixture of his questions and my reflections.

Psalm 16   A Song of the Refugee
Protect me Lord, for I have fled, a refugee, to you,
And as I fled, I said, ‘Lord you are my God, I have no other good but you.
But there are other refugees like me, and these I love as well;
Through poor, they are the noble-wise, and rich upon the earth.
And yet so many simply love and multiply their made-up gods,
Which only complicate their troubled lives.
So let me never sacrifice my life to these, no offer them the flattery of empty praise.
But let me offer up the cup of life for you to fill, and hold my life in yours as I hold you.
For I live this life you’ve made as your own land in which I dwell.
It is inheritance for me, a gift from you that I may use,
And I am here to listen to your counsel, Lord, your inner teachings of the heart.
Day after day, night after night, you speak through everything.
You are the prize of life, the goal, the hidden good.
You take my hand in yours and hold me up, and fill my heart to overflowing.
This body-mind, this spirit, all are yours, and each part finds a place to rest in you.
And even at the grave, I am not abandoned there, nor ever left alone.
From birth to death you are the path I walk upon, and you’re the guide who leads me through
And far beyond, into your Presence, Lord, right next to you, which fills me full,
My highest joy, my purest good.

Hospitality with God – hospitality with others – hospitality with ourselves: as we ponder these, I think we all experience a deep longing, sometimes a longing we know not what for.   It is a longing that asks us questions. Do you long for a relationship with God?  With other people?  With myself?  Do you wonder how it is established? 

This psalm gives us a view from the inside and says that a relationship with God is not simply a private affair, it is a shared relationship.  We cannot enjoy hospitality with God without also including the neighbours, the strangers – our relationship with God is not separable from our relationship to other people.  We can’t hold ourselves apart from each other without also holding ourselves apart from God.  This Psalm makes that clear. If you think about it, usually we do not establish a relationship with someone whose other friends we aren’t comfortable with.  However so often we tend to accept what our friend accepts perhaps even come to love what they love because it means to be so much a part of them.  But God has given us another way – to seek God where God may be found, to figure out how to untie the knots of injustice, to break apart the yokes of oppression, to see that the hungry have bread, the homeless have homes, and the naked have something to cover their nakedness.  God loves and lives in a world of right relationships. It is into this kind of world that we are invited.  It is there that God calls to us “Here I am” – and God longs for us to speak, to stand before another, a sister, a brother, and say “Here I am.”  I often ask myself: How close are you to that world and thus to friendship with God?

In the silence – may there be an echo in the air – the very voice of God, saying “Yes, hello.  Welcome Home.  Here I am.  Here I am.  This is the heart and soul of hospitality.