Hospitality: More Than a Smile

Now that we have spent several weeks reflecting on obedience and humility, let us dive into the topic of hospitality.  For many of us hospitality is a box that we imagine we check off with great ease.  Our homes are warm, and we welcome guests with a smile and great politeness.  As you probably can already guess, that was only a fraction of how St. Benedict approached hospitality. 

The Benedictine ideal of hospitality also included respect, great care, absence of judgment, encouragement, welcome, friendliness, ministering to the needs of others with great care and much excitement.  Even the smallest detail was imagined and addressed.

The work hospitality finds its roots in the Latin word hospitalitas, which comes from the word hospes or guest.  We show hospitality to others when we receive them as guests. In Benedictine monasteries and convents, guests are to be received promptly, with respect and in love.  The Benedictine model requires that someone always be ready to greet a visitor regardless of the day or hour.  Furthermore, the utmost humility is shown to all guests regardless of their station in life, and every effort is to be made to make them feel welcome and their presence honored.  The key to Benedictine hospitality is the recognition of Christ is each guest.

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35, RB 53.1).

Benedict goes on to teach that the poor and the pilgrim are to receive a special welcome because in them Christ is especially received (RB 53.3).  Benedict asks us to live a life of respect and service, reaching out to others because we see the Creator in everyone.  When we acknowledge the Creator in others, we acknowledge the part of them connected to the Divine.  By doing so, we receive each guest with charity and humility.  Elizabeth Canham reminds us, “that people do not enter our lives to be coerced or manipulated, but to enrich us by their differenced, and to be graciously received in the name of the Creator.

The truth is even with the best intentions, we can be self-serving and manipulative. 

  • We disregard another person’s viewpoint.
  • We consider others as annoyances that must be dealt with.
  • We fail to see need around us.
  • We close our fists and hold in our love and charity

Hospitality in Community

In the prior section we focused on hospitality between individuals.  We can, however, learn to extend the same courtesies to family, friends, church communities, and workplace.

Henri Nouwen describes hospitality as a space around us that we create for others in which they can come, be themselves, and discover who they are.  St. Augustine described it as, “Have Christian eyes.”  Benedict worded it this way, “word is better than the best gift” (31.13-14).  Benedict wanted to make sure everyone had the food and clothing needed showing special compassion and care for the sick, children, guests and the poor without judgment or criticism.  He also did not push the monks in his community beyond their capacity.  An important aspect of Benedictine hospitality is that it balances the needs of the community with the needs of the individual.  The foundation of Benedictine hospitality is when we look on the guest with hospitality, not as an interruption, but as a call from the Divine to love and serve another.

All we need to do is to make that space of hospitality around us and to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to what the Creator would have us do.  Often time we are not present to others, and at times we find it difficult to accept people as they are.  Yet, with families, in our circle of friends, in the church, at work, we can set aside our agendas and our expectations about people.  We can instead make room inside ourselves and within our schedules to make room for others, one person at a time.

Hospitality is an incredible gift that we can give one another.

Practicing Hospitality

Reflect on a time when you offered unexpected hospitality.

  1. Did you witness the Creator/Jesus in them?
  2. Do you feel that they witnessed the love and respect of the Creator/Christ in you?

Hospitality to those who are near

  • Be present to others

Being fully present often takes great patience and understanding.  We may find it necessary to empty ourselves of whatever is pulling us away.  These may be pressures such as responsibilities, a need to control, to hurry another person along, or to fill silent space with unnecessary chatter.  As the Diviner to help listen for what we need to be for the person in front of us.

  • Expect interruptions

Be flexible.  Opportunities for hospitality happen on God’s timetable.  Be open to interruptions for that is where life happens!

  • Receive the other as the Creator

When you meet someone whether a friend or a stranger, greet the Creator/Christ in that person.  How does that change our interactions?  Remember it is about them not ourselves.  In this action, we allow the Divine/God to sanctify our own lives.

  • Create a free space for hospitality

Instead of seeing the stranger with fear, ambivalence, judgment, or hostility we can “create a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy” (Reaching Out, Nouwen, p71).  The challenge is that usually the space around us is occupied!  Our concerns and desires, busyness and activity, and our preoccupation take up this space.  We need to be willing to be silent and to set things aside so that we can both provide a free, open, and friendly space for others, and also be free to receive the gifts they bring us.

  • When you feel like escaping, remember stability and obedience
  • Hospitality need not be a huge event

If hospitality means making room for another person, even in small ways, what could be done differently to be come a more hospitable person?

  • Be hospitable to yourself too

Take time to care for yourself in body, mind, and spirit.  It is important be kind to ourselves when we stumble.

Hospitality for those who are far

  • Participate in outreach programs that bring you face to face with the stranger

Volunteer in a soup kitchen or a shelter.  Bring food to those in need.  Help with projects that house the homeless.

  • At least once every three months participate in activities that address injustice
  • Be aware of how your life connects with others.  Are the consequences positive or negative?

My daily work

What I eat and how I prepare it

The clothes I wear

The way I spend my money

Where I live

What I do with my free time

How I raise my children

The way I garden and take care of my yard

The form of transportation I use

The way I exercise my political rights

Where I shop

My involvement with my church or religious community

My volunteer activities

The way I invest my money?

Hospitality to the earth

  • Recycle
  • Repair instead of purchase
  • Share instead of throwing away
  • Be respectful of the earth and its creation
  • Conserve usage of natural resources
  • Buy only what you need
  • Contact environmental organizations for information and ideas

Hospitality in the family

  • Talk to your children or grandchildren about hospitality
  • Consciously practice hospitality
  • Receive your family members as Christ/Creator
  • Extend hospitality to others as a family
  • Hospitality sometimes means letting someone be alone
  • Be fully present to your family at mealtimes

Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience.  Next Wednesday we will explore the topic of holiness of labor.

May you experience a holy Lent that offers you a place of solace and holiness.

Author: interioraltar

Episcopal Priest and Rector in the Diocese of East Carolina.

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