Growing up in the church, I noticed that those said to have the “spiritual gift of hospitality” seemed to exist in one specific category: women who were exceptional cooks. In fact, it was hard not to picture wearing an apron as a prerequisite for God to bestow this particular ability. While I confess to having my own spiritual experiences upon devouring a homemade chocolate chip cookie still warm from the oven, I have learned there is much more to this life-giving charism.
“Hospitality” has the same root as the word hospital, that place you go when physically injured and in need of healing. It doesn’t matter if the medical staff has a personal connection with you; if you’re hurt, you go with the expectation of being received and helped regardless, right? (Wouldn’t that be a beautiful expectation of our churches—for the emotionally or spiritually injured to know they can show up and find unquestioning welcome and help?) The core of hospitality is a wide-open receptiveness to friends and strangers alike. It is the desire to make space for the entire person: the heavy heart behind the fixed smile, the quirks, the joys, hungry belly, wary eyes, the questions. Hospitality says everything belongs… YOU belong.
While I have always been a decent cook, I have not always shown hospitality. It has taken experiencing profound generosity from friends, spiritual mentors, and pastors—who gathered all of me in, even my broken and prickly bits—for me to realize that I don’t always accept others the way these role models accepted me. Most of all, my growth in hospitality has come through the vast, tireless embrace of God that continues to heal the parts of me that fear such vulnerability. For it is indeed a vulnerable thing to welcome someone into yourself. It is a risk to invite another into the home of your heart: Will they break your favorite mug? Criticize the art on your walls? Ask for steak when all you have is hamburger? Yet so often the risk is worth it. Rarely can I meet all of their needs, but even more rarely am I asked to. Simply extending welcome and belonging is a balm that heals both giver and receiver.
As a spiritual director on the ReNew Team, I get to practice a particular style of hospitality: offering a confidential space for compassionate listening for the voice of the Sacred in a person’s life. I get to set the table for a sit-down meal with the Divine, where I am the server, the directee is the guest, and God is both gracious host and chef. It is a delightful role where I get to encourage the whole person to show up (not just the well-dressed parts), and experience the Spirit’s embrace.
That is not the only time where my hospitality is needed. It is called on in so many ways. Radical welcome of strangers and friends alike is a vital step in healing the chronic racial divides in my community. Warm acceptance is perhaps one of the few things left that my next-door neighbor with dementia understands. Soulful listening can thaw and germinate seeds of hope during my friend’s chilly season of job-hunting.
And here is the paradoxical lesson that I have learned through this journey: As I offer a place of belonging to others, my own sense of home deepens. The Spirit of “home” that flows from God and out through me in hospitality first saturates my own dry soul. When I clasp the stranger’s hand and lead him or her to the sumptuous table that God sets before us, I too am fed.
REFLECT AND RESPOND
This week, notice your internal reactions to strangers, e.g. when you’re standing in line or taking public transportation. Are there some people you are more drawn to than others? Is it easy for you to offer a smile or greeting? Is there any information about them, that if you knew it to be true, would compel you to connect with them? E.g., what if you knew the angry woman on the bus had just lost her job, or the sullen teenager was homeless?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Angelie Ryah is a member of the ChurchNEXT ReNew Team, a CRM ministry working to strengthen the souls of Christian leaders so they can thrive in every season of life and ministry. She lives in St. Paul, MN.