“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hospitality: A Christian Practice

The RevGals theme today for the Monday Meet and Greet is Hospitality. It's in honor of their retreat which begins today on that same theme. Here is my contribution:

In her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, Diana Butler Bass describes several small mainline Christian churches from different denominations that are experiencing growth because they have engaged, in deep and transformational ways, with ancient Christian practices.

Christian practices are those acts of discipline that a faith community engages in which shape, form, and transform the community into deeper faith. These practices include prayer, testimony, beauty, and hospitality, among others. These practices tend to rise up naturally, organically within a community. But the churches in her book took the time to discern the practices already at work in their community and develop them intentionally into stronger, deeper practices. At a recent conference with Diana Butler Bass she said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice for one to "master" a discipline. But she also said that faith communities doing the practice together build on those 10,000 hours forming not just individuals but all who participate, now and in the future. So for example, some old churches may have a long history of some Christian practice like prayer, and that discipline has shaped the community today.

Hospitality as a Christian practice, a discipline, is Biblical. Hospitality shows up in the story of Abraham and Sarah and the three strangers whom they host under the Oaks of Mamre. It's depicted in this Icon by Rubelev.

The three strangers show up at Abraham and Sarah's tent in the middle of the desert. They offer them respite under the trees, give them food and water, and treat these strangers like members of the family. In Rubelev's icon the three strangers are depicted as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

In other words, be attentive, strangers appearing in your presence just might be God.

The Bible has other stories about hospitality, many of them include Jesus and his teachings on love, kindness, and care for others. Although Hospitality has deep roots in Christian faith and practice it is something many communities struggle with.

True, every church will tell you they are open and welcoming. Every church thinks of itself as friendly. But many times that open, welcome, and friendly behavior is limited to those who are already members of the community. It is not an actual practice of the community, not something that every member does intentionally, by actively reaching out to the visitor, the newcomer, the marginalized, and those who live on the fringes of the community around the congregation. And yet Christian hospitality is intended to be lived in this radical inclusive way.

When in your life have you experienced this kind of radical, welcoming hospitality? Was it with a faith community or a person or some other way/place?