{Practicing Benedict} Receiving Guests, Receiving Christ


“Any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be received as we would receive Christ himself, because he promised that on the last day he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me…

As soon as the arrival of a guest is announced, the superior and members of the community should hurry to offer a welcome with warm-hearted courtesy. First of all, they should pray together so as to seal their encounter in the peace of Christ. Prayer should come first and then the kiss of peace, so to evade any delusions which the devil may contrive” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53).

St. Benedict shocks me here by equating “hurry” with welcoming a stranger, as if there’s something about hurry that makes hospitality sincere. Now, when I say hurry I don’t mean in the I’m sooooooo busy way.

Everybody’s busy. And I’m so over our competitions for who is busiest, especially among moms. Who has it hardest because she has the most kids, or has the crying-est baby or who has the kids at the most difficult stage of child-rearing? I know that “being busy” is our culture’s go-to monitor for how important we are or necessary, but I’ve started feeling more and more that it’s such a shame that most of the moms I know are “so busy.”

It seems to me that we’re all hurrying, but we’re just hurrying toward the least life-giving things.

What does it mean to hurry toward hospitality?

(Can I stop here and state: I did not say hurry toward “the hospitality committee” at church. The hospitality committee does not need you to sign up. *Whew* Some words are too loaded for us good Christian girls.)

I mean hospitality of the heart: Hospitality of the spirit, the mind. What does it mean to run toward relational openness? What does it mean to embrace the broken in our daily paths? What does it mean to live with a home that is open, sincerely open to those God brings our way?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. But I’ve been sitting with them for a few years now. And, the more I’ve asked God to show me, the more God has revealed the busy state of my heart and the busy state of my situation.

Last year I wrote a post about walking home from church–eight months pregnant and alone (August and Chris had gone to the park)–and coming upon a convulsing homeless man, who seemed to be suffering by himself. People were around him. Someone had called an ambulance, but he lay on the cement sidewalk and strangers kept their distance. Do you know what I wanted to do but failed to do? I wanted to hold his hand until the ambulance arrived. I didn’t. I didn’t because I pregnant and I was afraid of him. I didn’t because I told myself that there were already people around him and what could I really do to help his situation anyway? I didn’t because I had a Craigslist appointment to pick up a baby swing.

It was a beautiful baby swing. And now it’s sitting in our garage and every time I see it I think about that man on the sidewalk. I bent down low to his ear and whispered, “An ambulance is coming. You’re going to be okay.” And he stared into the sky.

What does it mean to practice hospitality of the heart? To receive the broken at our door as Benedict instructs? What does it mean to welcome the stranger? The drug addict, the orphan, the pimp, the inwardly suffering mother at your child’s school, the neighbor who suspects her husband is cheating, the friend who needs a good dinner and some support in the midst of your already busy week?

See, this post is mostly a series of questions. And I hope I can answer them soundly and with conviction when I am 80-years-old.

Until then, I know this to be true: Busyness is the enemy of hospitality because hospitality demands a slow enough pace to notice. And at the same time, hospitality demands what Benedict calls a  “hurry to offer welcome.” In order to encounter someone in their time of need, we generally have to open ourselves toward them quickly.

Lord, may we slow our bodies and our minds and our eyes enough to notice the people behind the counter at the grocery store, beside the car begging at the stoplight, across from us on the bench at the playground. Lord, give us hearts of hospitality that we may rush to welcome guests into our daily lives, so that, somehow, we may welcome Jesus…

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