When company is coming, I can get a little crazy. If you asked my family, they might even say I’m possessed when it comes to entertaining. “Mom’s on a cleaning frenzy. She’s re-arranging her sock drawer and re-bushing the bushes in the yard. Who’s coming over?”
They think I’m over the top when it comes to hospitality.
“Mom!” my daughter says when her best friend comes to dinner. “Why do you need to put on a table cloth, use the good dishes and the nice silverware?” She rolls her eyes. “It’s only Kaitlin!”
I can’t help myself. I grew up in Virginia. Southern hospitality is in my blood. It’s a reflex.
When the firemen and the emergency crew showed up when my husband cut his leg with an axe and passed out (only a minor flesh wound), they all crowded into the family room and hovered over Peter. My first thought was: “Why didn’t I bake cookies? I have nothing to serve these people!”
Hospitality is also deeply engrained in the Judeo-Christian faith tradition that formed me. In ancient times, welcoming the stranger was one of the most basic laws of the desert. If you turned a guest away, they might die of hunger or thirst or from exposure to the elements. Kindness and offering a warm welcome could be a matter of life or death.
As we know, hospitality can be risky. We may be inviting trouble or danger with our welcoming spirit. Welcoming some may cause others to turn their backs on us. But preparing to welcome others can lead to spiritual (and physical) house cleaning. It can open us up to new possibilities and a future radically altered for the better.
When I painted this version of the Annunciation, I wasn’t consciously thinking about hospitality. But looking back on it, hospitality seems to be just what Mary was practicing here as she welcomed Gabriel and his invitation into her life. Hospitality opened heaven and earth to one another, and a radical new story was born. As Henri Nouwen put it: “Hospitality means primarily the creation of 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.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.)
How are you practicing hospitality in your life? What will help you to open your heart and mind in welcome to the Other?
To Read More about my thoughts on hospitality, read my May newsletter here.