I love to be welcomed! I regularly, often, have the gift of being the recipient of hospitality. This fall at a retreat center, the door was opened with a smile, with gentleness, and with clear instructions for using the key. Every evening a luxurious bowl of new roses from the garden presided over interesting and interested conversation. One guest said, “I feel so safe here.” I am often welcomed in to homes for gatherings, and notice again that my coming has been anticipated, prepared for and all is in place to make me comfortable, so that I can enjoy the beauty and warmth of an open home.
Hospitality has felt to me like one of those cheerful spiritual practices- a sunny smile, an open door, the aroma of coffee. Yet I am finding that in being the hospitaller, not the “hospitallee,” the practice of Spirit hospitality is more challenging than comfortable, on a deep level. It’s not just about knowing tips and tricks to make things look and feel nice. Hospitality demands humility, compassion and elasticity. I am delighted and called to be a position to offer more hospitality than I was when I had a full-time job with two hours of commuting each day. I am centered at home for this season, with space and time to prepare for the visitor, the drop-in guest, the friend of a friend. So I am getting better daily with the instrumental tasks of hospitality.
Where the spirit work is churning more deeply in me is in those charisms of humility, compassion and elasticity. Roberta Bondi in To Know and To Love is very helpful to my understanding of humility, that it is not to be a doormat or to be obsequious, but rather to be clear and confident about who I am and what I am able to do with and for another, and then offer it in hospitality. I can cook adequately and shop; I can wash towels and sheets; I can get flowers from the garden. However, sometimes a little voice can creep into my interior garden to say, “For this you have all this education? ” Humility says, “No, it for these beloved ones I offer what I have; God will use whatever I have been given for welcoming them.”
I am also faced with the many different ways that there are to live one’s life when I invite someone to my house: rhythms of time, eagerness for conversation and for quiet, energy for activity and need for quiet. Each unique and particular guest has those ways and idiosyncrasies; sometimes they are not my ways, and their presence means I have to adapt my ways to the wants and needs of my guests. I am learning to ask often for compassion for the needs that shape my guests’ ways of life, for the pains they carry in their body and souls, for the exhaustion that they bring in their travels, and for the longing they have for listening and expression.
And I pray for elasticity. I have never seen this listed in Scripture as a gift of the Spirit, but as my body struggles with its own elasticity as I get older, I am aware that part of my Spirit must do the same. The same resistant voice that crept into my garden to question my formation in humility, now let’s itself be heard again: “After all these years of faithfulness, shouldn’t you be allowed to just rest and stay the same as you have always been, like what you like, dislike what you dislike, march (or sit and rock) to your own drummer? Why must you stretch and bend to invite another in?”
And I at that point with Spirit-energy, I need to stand up, stretch, speak up to say that whatever my resistances are, however demanding it is, my deeper desire is to be that one who follows Jesus Christ. In offering who he was on behalf of anyone who wanted to be part of him, he welcomed the stranger, loved his own, knew who he was, washed feet, welcomed children, offered who he was for Love’s sake. I daily experience being welcomed by him; I was to be a re-cycler of that welcoming Grace.