Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Few Thoughts on Hospitality

A couple of months ago, the idea came into my head to write something about hospitality. It came to me as I thought of all the wonderful times we have enjoyed and do enjoy when friends come to dinner or stay at our home or when we are hosted by others. I began to think of the great models of hospitality we have known in our lives, from friends and family who would host our visit when we came home on leave from around the world; to Bob and Vicki, who were with us in YWAM community in Spain; to Capt B and his wife, he the OIC/CO who had the greatest impact on my life in the Navy; to Don H and family, our chaplain in Spain and now the proprietor of the marvelous Spanish import store, La Tienda; to our friends Jim and Sue, who share their peaceful Estes Park home, Beit Shalom. The more I think about it, the more I see how much hospitality we have been shown throughout our lives.

I remembered delicious and often elegant meals, refreshing drinks, tasty teas and coffees, conversations, lively games and entertainments, as well as the little things that make one feel special upon arrival. I remember Vicki putting flowers and perhaps some tasty chocolates in guest rooms—along with a card welcoming them. That extra bit of effort made all the difference.
When we think of hospitality, often the first thing that comes to mind is food. My cousin Lissa kids that our family always takes pictures of the food, but we are really commemorating the people with whom we shared that food. The food is the occasion for the fellowship and as Antonio, her husband, likes to say, we are creating wonderful memories. These are the good old days, he says, for some future day in which, by the way, we’ll be busy making more good old days—not living in the past.

Yet, hospitality is much more than just serving good food and drink to our guests. True and complete hospitality involves sharing ourselves, our lives, with others and taking others into our hearts. There is an honesty and openness about welcoming others into our homes and to our table that says, “Here we are. What you see is what you get. We would love to get to know you, if you are willing.”

The biblical story of the Garden of Eden patterns the first hospitality. The Creator of the universe made a hospitable planet and planted a garden with all kinds of trees and plants in the midst of clear, cool, refreshing waters. The guests’ needs were perfectly provided for—nothing was held back.
Abraham is an archetype of hospitality. Sitting in his tent (which tradition says was open on all sides to provide for the needs of travelers), recovering in the heat of the day from his recent circumcision (at the age of 99!), he nevertheless jumps up and runs to greet three who approached, one of whom turned out to be the Almighty himself. He rushes to bring them water, both to drink and to bathe their feet, food to eat, and a place to rest before they should go on their way. Such was the way of Abraham and Sarah in greeting guests. It is said that Abraham required only that the guests return thanks to the one, true and living God in exchange for this hospitality (but nothing for himself).
The annual Alley family reunion is a great example of hospitality. Kathy’s family has been meeting together every year for nearly 60 years. For one fine weekend in late summer, we gather at a hotel near one or another of our homes, and we celebrate life together. We talk, laugh, talk, eat, talk, sing, talk, swim, joke, tease, get serious occasionally, and just enjoy one another’s presence. We have often spoken of the Alley reunion as a kind of hospital—a place we can enter, broken and battered by the challenges and vicissitudes of daily life, into a world of complete love and acceptance for a time. Hospitality.
I was amazed to find out (although I don’t know why) that the words hospital, hospitality, and host all come from the same Latin root. The root is hospes, which means guest, host, or stranger, and the related word hostis, means stranger or even enemy. So guests, hosts, and strangers are tied closely together in this word hospitality. Daughter Bonnie brought it together in this way, “A hospital is a place where strangers are welcomed in order to be healed. Therefore, hospitality is about welcoming strangers... in order that they may be made whole again.” Interestingly, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the usage of hospital as “shelter for the needy” predates the usage “institution for sick people” by about three hundred years, but the two meanings are clearly intimately entangled.

Jesus taught, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Although we may not find occasion to welcome these folks into our own homes, we can support organizations that do, and we may volunteer with such organizations to bless these precious ones. I would suggest also, however, that there are those in our immediate circle of friends and acquaintances who are spiritually, emotionally and/or psychologically poor, crippled, lame, or blind. Are there any among us who can honestly say we do not suffer one or the other of these maladies in some way or another?

Our homes and our tables should be “hospitals” in which we make one another whole—healing the emotionally crippled, giving sight to the spiritually blind, binding up the broken-hearted, friending the unfriended, setting free the captive, building one another up in all of these realms, and providing a place of joy and song and fellowship and blessing for all through our hospitality. This is providing true shalom, which in all of its fullness means wholeness, completeness—that we might be complete, lacking in nothing.

Daughter Ellie states it well. She says, “I think hospitality means inviting people into your life. Sometimes it does mean bringing out the best and showing them that they are worth the effort, but other times, it means giving them a glimpse of your normal life. Letting them see that life is good, and something to be enjoyed to the fullest…even when it’s messy.” I love that. Bringing people into your life, bringing them into your heart. Friend Rich once commented that our home is “one of the happiest places in Colorado.” Toby’s friends recently said, “When we were there, they made us feel like family.” Those statements bless us so much for that is what we strive for our home to be—a place of happiness and blessing, of family, a place of hospitality, reflecting the hospitality we have been shown so bountifully.
As God showed that first hospitality to the couple in the Garden—inviting them into his life, into his heart, so we invite others into our lives, into our hearts with our hospitality. So may it be in increasing measure.

1 comment:

Tessa said...

This is a wonderful comment on "hospitality" revealing how much the essence of your family has been influenced by receiving and giving graciously to others. I have had my heart enlarged by the influence of your daughter, Bonnie's, attitude to hospitality and the enjoyment and refreshing we all have when we visit her home. I have learnt some aspects of giving hospitality that have made more fun for my visitors. Thank you for sharing this rich and enriching life experience with us.