I’ve been playing with ideas about hospitality in all its dimensions for the bulk of my life. Opening my home off and on over the last 30 years has brought daily opportunities to cultivate a deep practice of acceptance and openness to a wide variety of humans who come into my circles. Long ago I read a book that had a great impact on me and here are some excerpts from that book – Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen – that express some of my reflections about hospitality – radical hospitality – and the “friendly emptiness” I am intending, imagining and creating at the MorningStar House.
“It is about three movements in life with the self, God and others: from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer.”
“The German word of hospitality is “gastfreundschaft” which means, friendship for the guest. The Dutch use the word “gastvriheid” which means, the freedom of the guest. Although this might reflect that the Dutch people find freedom more important than friendship, it definitely shows that hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest, and freedom without leaving him alone.”
“Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a way of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opening of an opportunity to others to find God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances, free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”
“So we can see that creating space is far from easy in our occupied and preoccupied society. And still, if we expect any salvation, redemption, healing and new life, the first thing we need is an open receptive place where something can happen to us. Hospitality, therefore, is such an attitude. We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center.”
There’s something about creating a truly free space for transformation to happen, a free space where peace is practiced, where acceptance happens, and where new life emerges in both guest and host.
So my days are filled with simple cooking, doing laundry, cleaning, making fast simple art in the pauses, and having delicious conversations with guests, family, and friends. It’s good for me, this simple, grounded work. It’s good for me to scale down this way and come home to a way of using my natural gifts that is organic, mostly fun, and sometimes profoundly consciousness-raising.