Many years ago on a trip through London I bought a copy of The Rune of Hospitality in a cathedral gift shop. Even then these lines rang true to me and I knew they were a call for the direction of my life. Once I was back home I put the small card in a 1930’s vintage frame and since then it has been up in the kitchen of each home I’ve lived in. This framed piece has never been on display as decoration or part of a kitchen theme; it’s for me. It’s always been in my work space, usually near the sink or by the coffee pot, out of the way, hanging low. I keep it where I can see it when I look up from some task. The thoughts are real and ever present for me.
Not long ago I read a modernized definition of hospitality. It said something like: Hospitality is making people feel welcome, safe, comforted, and even loved. I think that’s true. Food is usually a part of the hospitality picture, but it doesn’t have to be. In public, or in stressful situations that can occur anywhere a mindset of hospitality can bring peace and calm.
In my day job I routinely go into the homes of people who are very sick, some of them are near death. That first visit is usually quite stressful, meaning that the people were already feeling a great deal of stress before I arrived. They are worried and overwhelmed, and always a bit fearful. I pray before I walk through their door, put a smile on my face and do my best to make them feel welcome and comforted in their own home. Sometimes as I’m leaving they tell me (with some amazement) that they felt safe and comforted; it’s always a quiet thrill to hear that I was able to put the right thing in the right place at the right time.
In the last month I was given many opportunities to put this Practice to work—at work, comforting and encouraging an employee in very difficult life circumstances, at church welcoming a hungry stranger, giving him all the dinner he could eat and enough space to feel safe, and in my home preparing an impromptu dinner for exhausted friends who needed encouragement—It meant pulling groceries straight out of the shopping bags to make salad and chicken and cheesy bread, late at night. In these instances I felt grateful for the opportunity.
But there are times that I miss my cue, times that I’m tired with seemingly nothing left to spare, and sometimes that I’m maybe even a bit fearful. I’m still learning.