Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
Izumi Shikibu (974?-1034?)
Jane Hirshfield/Mariko Aratani
Jesus sat down to chat, to eat, and to sleep in a wide variety of houses. He invited the strangest mix of society to join him. I can imagine the dismay of many of his hosts at the steady influx and invasion of unknown people, not dressed for the occasion, smelling rather ripe and rank, with dirt on their clothes and mud on their sandals. A mix of people who were associated with radical religious movements, social extremists, and political agitators might well cause severe anxiety to a host who feared for their reputation and association.
But this is what Jesus calls hospitality – hospitality to others and hospitality to ourselves. No one is to be shut out.
At present I cannot offer anyone a meal or a home, since illness often prevents me socialising in the way I would like, and I have no home at the moment to invite others into. What I can do from my bed is work on my own prejudices, those attitudes that would stop me in the future from even seeing the presence of someone who might be in need of the kind of hospitality I could offer. As Pete Grieg reminds me:
People tell me they have the gift of hospitality by which they mean that they like dinner parties … This is not the gift of hospitality. This is the gift of a box of chocolates.
Biblical hospitality starts in the heart and not the ikea catalogue. It is sacrificial and thoughtful, familial and flexible, patient and consistent, humble and imaginative. It allows for interruption, goes the second mile and gives space.
Above all else, hospitality means listening. “Listening is the highest form of hospitality,” says Henri Nouwen, aiming “not to change people but offering them space where change can take place.”
Listening to those who come sit at the end of my bed is something I can do. The vision that my ‘sick room’ could become a temple of transfigurative encounter gives me real hope.
But will I be ready when the world comes to me? Am I prepared to hear the hard stuff, or am I so ground down by the fogged vision of depression and illness that I am unwilling to hear anyone else’s sadness or joy?
I am still learning that in order to provide exquisite hospitality to those who come to me, I need to bestow the same precious gift on my inner political agitator Kate, the one who gets cross and shouty; on the really awkward, angular Kate who hasn’t grown up from a gawky introspective teenager yet; on the flamboyant, arrogant Kate who flaunts her superior learning in everyone’s face; on the seductress Kate, who enacts dark shadowy fantasies that entrap and deplete all vital energies… These are the Kates I really don’t want to admit even exist within me, let alone spend any time with them listening to them. But that is what Jesus asks me to do at the start of another year on the Way of Wisdom.
And I will not be alone. For the advent of Jesus into the world is all about this one central fact: God is with me. God is with us.
So there is no need to slam the door and shun who I fear will be harmful company within myself.
I recently re-read Psalm 31.22 and heard the psalmist’s panic attack echo in my own fears that arise from believing the lie of isolation
I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
In the midst of depression it feels like I am completely alone, cut off from God, from others, even from myself. But part of extending Jesus’s model of hospitality even to myself, is to remember that this is the opposite of true reality. All I need do is listen to those who cry out in me, and join in with their cry to God for help.
Can I open enough doors in myself today so that the cries of the wounded in the world join the cries of the wounded within myself? Can we who weep come together to God to receive the wholeness of being heard?
This is the Good News of Great Joy that we await expectantly together through this longest night.
This post is part of our reflections for Advent 2016.