by Christine Sine
Henri Nouwen calls hospitality “the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends…. He goes on to suggest that the most important guests, the most important strangers we get to entertain in our homes are our children. When they are born, we don’t really understand who they are or who they will become. “They are guests we need to respond to, not possessions we are responsible for.”… Maybe hospitality is about receiving every stranger in the same way we receive a child. (The Gift of Wonder 187)
I have just set up a new contemplative garden on my desk – a hospitality garden that’ll be the focus of my morning prayer time for the next few weeks. You could say that this garden was created by happenstance or more likely the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
All are welcome
Last week someone gave me a collection of cups to make into succulent gardens. Our dog Goldie immediately grabbed one and broke it, so I decided to make it the focus of my garden. Then I took an assortment of succulents that needed homes and planted them around and in the cup. Next I painted my rocks with the words “all are welcome” and decorated them with dotted patterns.
To prime the pump for my reflections I reread the chapter in The Gift of Wonder entitled Come to the Table, which the quote above comes from. My eyes were riveted. On Wednesday my nephew Matt and his wife Kass arrived from Australia with their 6-month-old baby Lucy to visit. We have done everything possible to welcome this baby, this stranger whom we hope will become a friend. We have cleared out our guest room to create space for her. We have rearranged our schedules to make time for her and now we want to spend time with her, accepting her as she is now, not trying to change her into who we want her to become but seeking to identify and encourage her to develop the gifts God has placed within her.
The Gift of Radical Hospitality
We forget sometimes that Jesus too came as a baby and as a stranger into the midst of his family and community. And he was an unwanted baby to many, born to an unwed mother, outside the bonds of convention and acceptability. Yet he was welcomed by his mother Mary with great excitement and delight. And he was welcomed by Joseph as a part of his family too. They seem to have extended generous hospitality to him, made room in both their hearts and their home for him.
Then while he was still an infant, he becomes the welcomer to those who are most despised in his community – to the shepherds and the gentile magi. Once again Mary and Joseph and probably his extended family, make room for the strangers that come to meet this baby. What an incredible model of hospitality we see even here in the birth of this child.
What if we read life with the belief that all are welcome at God’s table? What would it look like if I was willing to welcome every stranger as I welcome this child?
It did not occur to me until I was finished creating my garden that this is gay pride month and more than anything people in this movement long to hear the words of hospitality “all are welcome at my table.” They want to know that though they may be strangers we are willing to sit down and invite them to become friends, we are willing to embrace and listen to them rather than criticize and reject them.
It is the same for refugees and immigrants, for the homeless and those of different races and creeds, so many of whom have also travelled long distances in the hope of welcome. There are so many who are strangers in our midst that are waiting for us to sit down and invite them to become friends, just as we have invited little Lucy and her parents into our home and invited her to become a friend.
How did you respond to the last newborn infant you were introduced too? What feelings and emotions welled up within you? …. What changes in behavior were you willing to make in order to get to understand this child, accommodate its needs, help it feel welcome in your home?
Now think about the last time you met a stranger – perhaps a homeless person on the street or a new member at your church. How did you welcome them as you would welcome a child? In what ways did you endeavor to turn this stranger into a friend? The Gift of Wonder 189
One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ life was radical hospitality. He repeatedly invited outcasts, and the despised, Gentiles and Jews alike to eat together at his table. His guiding precept is “God is love and I will extend that love to everyone who comes.”
A New Testament theologian once told me that he believed Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus was one of the creedal statements of the early church.
What if that is true? What if we all are one in Christ in spite of our differences?
Yesterday I came across this beautiful poem by Native American poet laureate Joy Harjo. It is a great one to read as we reflect on our differences and the place that hospitality can play in helping us to see the world and those who inhabit it differently.
Perhaps the World Ends Here:
The world begins at the kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of the earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and will go on. (Read entire poem here)
I think that is what the banquet table of the kingdom is all about. It is a place of radical hospitality to which all are invited and at which all are welcome. It is a place where all can sit down and talk about their differences, not with judgement but with love. Not seeking to convert others to their viewpoint, but seeking for understanding and acceptance of those who think differently. What do you think?