the vulnerable table

we have a friend living with us for the time being. he has stayed with us before but this time it seems like the duration is a bit more open-ended. both times it all happened kind of quickly. i’m starting to think this is a good thing. i’m always a fan of “being prepared” but there was something about just opening the door and welcoming him in that kept the whole situation very real, for lack of a better term. there was little to no time to let anxiety build up about whether this was the right decision and little to no time to try and hide the ordinary messes of our lives.

as a result of all of this, my understanding of “hospitality” has been pushed and stretched. for our family, food and the table seems to be the natural center of practicing hospitality in our home (surprise, surprise). everyone can participate in the prep and clean-up. everyone eats and drinks and talks together. everyone can have a place. i was working this all out in my head a couple of months ago and then yesterday came across these quotes in a book i’m reading, Radical Hospitality – Benedict’s Way of Love by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt.

Meals are powerful symbols in our memory. But someone has to make a meal happen. Someone must consider it important enough to give themselves to the work that goes into preparation…Preparing for another pulls us out of ourselves-that is one of the good gifts of hospitality.

The image of preparing a table, or preparing a place, is a good overall image for hospitality. In genuine hospitality we work to make our entire existence a welcoming table, a place prepared for others to be at ease, to receive from us comfort and strength. Hospitality teaches me to work at becoming someone who is easy to be with, as either guest or host. pp109-110

both of these quotes center on the table but also address vulnerability, the other characteristic of hospitality that has become so striking to me over the past couple of months. today i remembered that andi ashworth talks about being vulnerable when sharing your life with others in Real Love For Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring. she says:

Our willingness to let others see our imperfections and to receive them in theirs opens the way to honest exchange. It’s risky. Facades crumble, and we are exposed as the vulnerable, still-on-the-journey-but-haven’t-arrived-yet people that we are. But we also are able to offer the grace of a true home. p63

so true.  it’s when those facades crumble (whether or not you even realized that you were putting them up) that the true home emerges.

whether someone is just visiting us for a few days or living with us for a stretch of time, i’ve come to realize i need to mark the occasion with a special meal. something set apart. i’m fine if the majority of meals during someone’s stay are ordinary and unremarkable but there is something about having a celebratory meal to mark the beginning of our time together. last night we celebrated our friend’s birthday and in my mind it was also the meal that marked him becoming a part of our family for the time being and the beginning of everyone having to be vulnerable with each other to some degree to make the whole endeavor work.

The command to love our neighbor is open-ended. God gives us no formulas to follow that will produce the right outcome. Each situation will call for a unique response. But always, at its core, being hospitable is the imaginative work of putting ourselves in another person’s shoes. From that vantage point, we can think of how we ourselves would want to be treated and then act upon that knowledge. p72 Real Love For Real Life

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7 thoughts on “the vulnerable table

  1. good morning!
    challenging thoughts. I want to be at the point where hospitality is opening your home, not in perfection, but really how it is. I grew up in a home where hospitality is putting out your very best- which I think is good, but it raises the bar so high I can be paralyzed to even try. (does that make sense?) I think now I realize the value of hospitality is the relationship, not the show.
    and, I wanted to tell you that I so enjoy your sidebar finds! I’m going to link IfItWereMyHome in just a minute…
    Blessings today!

  2. The lessons you have learned and continue to learn about hospitality, etc. seem to go right along with this week’s Lesson 4 of our Wed. night study on Community. Think I’ll get out my copy of Andi Ashworth’s book and share some of the quotes you refer to. In our text, I especially like Keller’s statement that says, “Live in a community where you don’t let others carry their loads alone, and where you don’t try to carry your own load alone. Help others and let others help you.” Your post is a great illustration of this.

    • that is a great keller quote. with all of this running through my head for a good portion of each day right now, i was so ticked off when i found myself singing along to the lyrics of a song (don’t carry it all) by “the decemberists” the other day and realized the lyrics said, “…and you must bear your neighbor’s burden within reason…”

      really? within reason? that struck me as so utterly sad. yet i think so many people think that you only give of yourself if it’s convenient and doesn’t hurt. (and i’m not pointing fingers here because i find my heart and actions often guilty of just this but i would never want to sing that i strive for helping others only if it doesn’t burden myself.)

  3. excellent and dare i say, vulnerable writing. yes, hospitality is framed by vulnerability as we serve others in the space that is most authentic and intimate to us. thank you.

  4. rachel – “gutsy hospitality” made me smile and laugh. it’s such a good description to counter the “entertaining” notion of hospitality that seems to rule the world of glossy magazines in our culture.

    L. – thank you. it took me a while to figure out how to write this and to walk that line between vulnerability and sharing too much, but as i told my husband, i needed to write about this. not to showcase something we were doing, not at all, but to share with people. i have found that God works in me most to try new and possibly frightening things after i have heard other people’s stories.

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