Living; A Lost Art
We live in a very hostile world today. We all are passing each other, our pockets fully equipped with armor and weapons ready to declare war against one another.
Our loneliness has caused us to be so needy and as a result we have become overly sensitive to any hints of someone trying to attack us. We are quick to lash out to anyone who seems to be rejecting us.
A product of our defenses and protective walls are the external structures to keep out strangers. We protect our properties with dogs, double lock the doors to our homes and have security guards in airports and train stations. Our society has titled those that who do not speak the same language, those who are unfamiliar, those who dress differently, as strangers. This is what has created fear and hostility within us. We will often find ourselves even calling our own family and friends as strangers. The communities we live in have become battlefields rather than places of peace and places to bring us closer.
Rather than living as persons who share in each other’s pains, laughers, and sorrows we have become individuals who move away from one another, ready to strike at any moment we feel threatened.
Henri Nouwen offers a solution to this hostility; hospitality.
To most people hospitality often means an open door for guests to come into their homes and make themselves comfortable.
Abraham’s hospitality is the most beautiful example of true hospitality. He welcomes graciously his three guests as he camps by the oak of Mamre. As a result of Abraham’s hospitality, something or Someone priceless was offered to him and his wife.
Both the Old and New Testament demonstrate this, when hospitality is offered a gift is offered to the host. To Abraham his gift was the revelation of the Lord Himself. When the widow of Zaraphath offered a place of refuge to Elijah, Elijah revealed himself as a man of God. On the road to Emmaus as the two friends offered the Stranger a space to walk with them, the Stranger revealed Himself as Christ the Risen Lord.
The key to each of these events is the ‘space’ that was offered by each host to their guest, a space that was created to allow the stranger to be transformed to a friend. The guests were welcomed as they were, not on the host’s terms but their own. Each stranger and guest has a great gift to offer us, to heal us and enrich our lives.
The German word for hospitality is Gastfreundschaft, which means friendship for the guest. The Dutch word for hospitality is Gastrijheid, meaning freedom of the guest. The beauty of illustrating both these definitions paints us a full picture. Hospitality is the place for friendship with no conditions and freedom without abandonment.
Every person we sit with, every person we encounter on a daily basis is our guest, a guest in our ‘personal space’, a guest to our thoughts, feelings and way of life.
We must create a space of emptiness for them to explore freely in our presence. We always feel the need to bombard our guests with our own ideas, opinions and feelings. Yet hospitality shows us something different. It shows us that the guest has the freedom to sing their own song, speak their own language of pain, joy and laughter, to dance their own dance and even leave freely having discovered this own calling.
You see, hospitality, is allowing our guest to find himself rather than be conformed to our ways, our thoughts and our lifestyle. We offer our guest that gift, ‘to find their own personal way of being human.’
We as the host must lay down our weapons and invite our guests to do the same.
Johannes Metz describes this in the most profound and enlightening way when we says:
We must forget ourselves in order to let the other person approach us. We must be able to open up to him to let his distinctive personality unfold— even though it often frightens and repels us. We often keep the other person down, and only see what we want to see; then we never really encounter the mysterious secret of his being, only ourselves. Failing to risk the poverty of encounter, we indulge in a new form of self-assertion and pay the price for it: loneliness. Because we did not risk the poverty of openness (Matthew 10: 39), our lives are not graced with the warm fullness of human existence. We are left with only a shadow of our real self.
We subconsciously say and do things every time we are with others trying to make them like ourselves, but we end up pushing them away. The fall of man led to this ‘sameness’, where we want everyone to be like ‘us’, the intolerance of distinction and particularity in every human being.
In the famous icon of the Trinity by the Russian iconographer, Andrei Rublev, the image of hospitality is portrayed. It was said of the hospitality of Abraham that it was three angels that came to him and Sarah. According to Tradition it was the Lord Himself. The three Persons illustrated in the icon have wings yet each carries a staff in their hand. The Divine joins our weary journey, revealing how we to must walk with our guests.
The center of the icon is the table, or the altar where the slain Lamb is. The story of the hospitality of Abraham is transformed to the hospitality of God to us. The Trinity is inviting us to sit and dine with them, at the Father’s house, to come disarmed and free to be yourself. I enter in with my unique personality and unique way of expressing myself to the sacred place of the Beloved. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit all with their arms open, invite me to come and be the completion of the circle around the table, to join in with their Divine and eternal Dance.
The table is prepared and the door is open. My host, my Father calls out to you and me, ‘Come.’
I challenge you this week to get together with one person in your community whom you have labelled as a stranger and see what gift they have to give to you.