Hospitality as Means of Health, Wholeness and Shalom

by Hilary Horn

As we end this month’s theme on hospitality we will enter into our August theme of health, wholeness and shalom. Thank you Steve Wickham for this great post to close and enter a new chapter —

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 – 1996) 
Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

Reading Nouwen’s thought brought me to reflect on how rare this is — the freedom to let others be, in community. Of course, it’s an ideal, one worth working for. It is aspirational, yes, but worth the work to bring it into being. And this work is truly the antithesis of work, other than the setting up of an environment in faith it will work.

It talks about inclusive space. Where there are no outliers whatsoever. Where all-comers are accepted and embraced. Where place is not just environment but home. Where a complete stranger may feel coherence between the environment’s structure (its rules) and their own values. Where comfort comes from within, and the person can be as they actually are.

Can we see how this allows the person to exist in health, wholeness and shalom? That health, wholeness and shalom are no unattainable destination, but the very way we go about getting there. Where health, wholeness and shalom are not simply an end in themselves but also a cogent, vibrant and productive means; because of the input, hospitality.

The central tenet of Nouwen’s ethos, then, is that hospitality is what it is without challenging people’s mindsets to change. It isn’t transactional, like the exchange of environment on condition that the person accommodated do this or that to ‘pay for’ what has been given — presumably freely — for hospitality cannot cost if it is what it is.

Photo by Steve Wickham

But hospitality can be the source of change, and therein lies the action of trust (and inaction of attitudes of suspicion, etc) by the mysterious and wondrous work of the Holy Spirit. If change is to occur, change that God’s Spirit initiates, the manifestation of that change will be a mystery, for all things of the Spirit cannot be rationally explained, such is the power of God.

What is most inspiring and encouraging for a community is to see God at work in their midst through a sign; that there is absolutely no coercion — no imprint of cajoling humanity on it at all. There is freedom to love and be loved, and there’s no second guessing for motives. And the fruit of the Spirit is enjoyed and experienced in such cherished places.

Hospitality is synonymous for health, wholeness and healing.
One equals the other, and vice versa.

These are no utopian dreams to those who have experienced the possibilities of such powers of grace in community. For a community of persons to attain to the heights of trust, and to experience true freedom, however, some innate taking of responsibility is a must. There must be some commitment of spiritual quest; some reason or desire for sowing into community in the first place. But otherwise, all there ought to be is space.

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