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