Some ladies are said to have “the gift of hospitality”: Lady Lovely’s home is tidy and tasteful and most of all welcoming, her food and drink fit each occasion, kings and commoners and strangers and friends feel at home with her, she facilitates meaningful and merry conversation, she rarely breaks a sweat (unless it’s from laughter or Scattergories), and her guests leave inspired by their time in her home.
I dearly love the Lady Lovelies of my world. And I’m not quite one myself. Instead, I realize, my own practice of hospitality is mostly a gift to me, a gift given from Our Lord and from my guardian angel, and from the guardian angels of my guests.
I think I have always expected that the only fun and worthwhile part of entertaining is the part that’s actually entertaining. Party time! If only, à la Beauty and the Beast, the house would clean itself, the food would cook itself, the dishes would wash themselves—be our guest! (And maybe Mrs. Potts the nanny-teapot could even get our children to sleep on time, before the guests arrive.) Then my darling husband and I could sit back, eat and drink, entertain and be entertained and have no cares for a few hours.
But, as with… well… almost all of my expectations, wrong again.
I am discovering that the most profoundly great part of entertaining is not my own “being entertained”; it’s the Christian love that hospitality draws out of the hostess. I am never more spiritually present to our guests than when I am tidying, scrubbing, planning and preparing in anticipation of their arrival, and when I am cleaning up after their departure. And domesticity and contemplation are not natural virtues of mine. I am amazed by the purity of love that I experience for our guests when I serve them unseen, before and after the main event—again, unrelated to my own virtue, because my tendencies are toward cynicism, vanity, pride, competitiveness, and plenty of other vices that taint love of neighbor. It’s as if the hours of preparation and cleanup are wordless intercessory prayer for them and spiritual presence with them, with no particular mental or spiritual effort on my part. And, through this gift, I am learning (slowly, really slowly, all by God’s grace) how to love better and more purely and how to live more in the present moment.
So, come party time, I may be disheveled, there may be dust on the endtables, dinner may be underseasoned or overcooked… but the gifts that I receive through each act of hospitality make it so worthwhile.