Earlier this week, I spoke to a group about hospitality. As we enter a season where many of us will either open our homes to others, or be the guests of others, it seems a good time to reflect on hospitality as a spiritual practice.
Christian hospitality is more than good manners. Whether we are the hosts or the guests, we should assume a posture of humility and vulnerability. This is likely more obvious if we are the guest in the home of another, but it should also be the case if we are hosting another in our home. As the host, we assume the posture of a servant. As Parker Palmer suggests, we let the stranger be a stranger. Even if our guests are family members, we allow them the space to simply be themselves.
Yet many times, family gatherings can turn into efforts at manipulation and domination, not expressions of love and humble service. If you have shared a meal with family or friends, and the topic of conversation has turned to what someone either at the table or absent from it has or hasn’t done or should or shouldn’t do, you know it is not an open or welcoming place to be. That is especially true if you are the target of another’s criticism or manipulation, but even if you are not the target, such conversation is uncomfortable and uncaring (although it may be couched as being for one’s own good).
St. Augustine said, “The human race is inquisitive about other people’s lives, but negligent to correct their own.” He says this because some seemed to have a prurient interest in the sexual excesses of his life prior to his conversion. When holiday gatherings become opportunities for interrogation and criticism about the lives of family members either present or absent, hospitality is nonexistent. This is true even if the inquisition is framed as loving care or concern.
Augustine goes on to say, “A brotherly person rejoices on my account when he approves me, but when he disapproves, he grieves on my behalf.” True grief on behalf of another does not manifest itself in manipulation and criticism. May we practice such hospitality this season that others feel comfortable and welcome in our presence. Let us rejoice and grieve with those with whom we share space, not criticize, manipulate or interrogate them. Let us make space for grace and love.