Healing Through Hospitality

In this life we will all be guests, and hosts, at different times. We will need others, and we will have the opportunity to help others. We will experience advantage and disadvantage. The naturally hospitable people are the healers in our midst. Almost effortlessly, it seems, they bridge our differences and bring out our best.

Since the war began we have heard stories of Romanians being praised for their hospitality, and I want us to take a closer look together at what hospitality is about. You have all displayed a heart for loving people, noticing, serving and inspiring others to join you.

The way I personally enjoy life is to immerse myself into trying to understand it, and I want to take you on a journey with me. Take a look at what we do well, how and why.

I am not an expert on this topic. On the contrary, I am a student of hospitality. I have learned a thing or two about it through our decision to adopt children. Sharing everything we have, everything we are and wrestling with our own natural selfishness. Hospitality is at the heart of adoption. We became a host for our children. Our home became theirs. But they also became our host in their lives. We are guests and hosts. We lead and we serve.

As our nations crossed paths unexpectedly starting this February, we witnessed a lot of pain but we also experienced a downpour of grace. Witnessing pain and devastation caused us to snap out of selfishness. Together we have learned to walk gently, humbly, to host and to serve, because as we looked into our neighbors eyes we saw ourselves. To show hospitality is to take action. But before that, in order to be intentional about it we need to be observant. To notice the need.

Hospitality can easily be seen as a tame and domestic act. But the power of showing up, of noticing others is not to be taken lightly. It’s a statement of standing with someone, who would otherwise be invisible, declaring their worth.

Hospitality is founded on three attitudes: goodwill, respect and courage. Goodwill identifies with the other. Desmond Tutu said:

Those with eyes to see will know that these are brothers and sisters created by God and living as mutual guests in the same house provided by the same divine host”.

Oh, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, to understand that it could have easily been you, that the roles could have just as easily been reversed, is a clarity giver and a strong motivator.

Respect: We give our best. Always thinking how we would want to be treated as guests.

Courage: A spirit of goodwill and respect keeps open the door of opportunity, but something more is required if we are to walk through it. Clearly that something is courage.

Hospitality is, after all, risky business, and it takes courage to set it in motion. It is a calling that enables the naturally brave to shine, but where do the rest of us find this strength? Sometimes we will find it in the example of others. We see them standing tall, and we are inspired to do the same. Or, we witness some kind of injustice and, fueled with indignation, reflexively move into action. Looking back we don’t know what got into us but we know we couldn’t just sit and watch. There are times, too, when we find ourselves emboldened by our belief that we are involved in something important, something bigger than ourselves. Yet some find the courage to act because we are more afraid of the effects of inaction. Christine Pohl points out:

People for whom hospitality is a disposition and a habit are less afraid of the risks associated with caring for strangers than they are of the possibility of cutting themselves off from the needs of strangers.”

However or wherever we find the courage, we are likely more capable of it than we realize. Unlike their opposites – prejudice, condescension and convenient disengagement – they set the stage for meaningful connection between strangers. These attitudes foster the behavior of noticing, listening and making room. Amy Oden writes:

Hospitality is characterized by a particular moral stance in the world that can best be described as readiness…Whether we are guest or host, we must be ready, ready to welcome, ready to enter another’s world, ready to be vulnerable…This readiness is expectant…Such readiness takes courage, gratitude, and radical openness.”

This readiness leads to the simple act of noticing. Noticing seems a small thing, but it matters greatly. The temptation to ignore those who strike us as different is great, for we know from experience that things are usually simpler when we look the other way. With enough practice, we become accomplished at maintaining our oblivion. A famous story is that of the Samaritan, who noticed a fellow human being in the middle of the road, beaten and broken. But he didn’t just notice (the others noticed too and stepped over or around) but he displayed a sense of readiness to do something about it. To show goodwill. To engage with respect, and to take action.

Noticing affirms, but it also complicates things. Once the needs of another are noticed or a plaintive face comes into focus, the awkward question of whether or not to get involved is posed. Against the grain of modern instinct, hospitable people choose to get involved. Hospitality rolls up its sleeves and gets involved, but it is careful not to mess with people. It accepts them and values them as they are. Henri Nouwen wrote:

So hospitality is about trust and respect. Often we view respect as a sort of attention paid to the high and mighty. That is “special occasion respect.” Respect in hospitality does not go overboard with attention because, to the extent that it signals that we hold unequal status, it divides us. Truly hospitable people do not treat us like we are special; they treat us like we belong. It’s refrigerator privileges and the blunt expectation that we will pick up after ourselves. Their treatment tells me I am no better than anyone else, and I am no worse than anyone else, either.

Listening continues the affirming attention that starts with noticing. In their book Radical Hospitality, Homan and Pratt observe:

Listening is always involved in hospitality. The most gracious attempts we can muster are meaningless if we do not actually hear the stranger. Listening is the core of hospitality”

Fully and attentive listening, with the intent to know and understand, is out of the ordinary. Thomas Merton makes the observation that:

We live in a state of semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: we are not quite “thinking,” not entirely responding, but we are more or less there. We are not fully present and not entirely absent; not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available.”

Creating Space” Author Margaret Guenther observes:

At its simplest, hospitality is a gift of space, both physical and spiritual, and like the gift of attentive listening, it is not to be taken lightly”

To offer hospitality is to offer sanctuary. Rooted in the notion of holiness, sanctuary is a safe place, place of holy refuge. Hospitality happen best when offered with humility. We need humility because there is something in the needs of others that tempt us to offer advice and direction. Overestimating our understanding of the other and their circumstances, by cooking up ways to fix the challenges they face, ends up crowding them.

Simple availability and attentiveness almost always accomplishes more than a storm of action and advice. Courageous hospitality sets the stage for building deeper-than-ordinary relationships. It’s especially valid for our adopted children as well as for our brothers and sisters from Ukraine. Hospitality has little to do with wealth. In fact, those who have little are more eager and ready to share what they have. Christine Pohl notes that:

Over and over again, I’ve come to see that in God’s remarkable economy, as we make room for hospitality, more room becomes available to us for life, hope, and grace.”

We had very little as we embarked on our adoption journey. The image of the widow pouring oil from her clay bottle as it miraculously multiplied, that’s how my life started to feel as we embarked on the adoption journey. That was our calling. But it can be whatever obedience of generosity. This practice of opening our home and giving while becoming parents through adoption has spread into other areas of our lives. In the words of Homan and Pratt:

Hospitality is a lively, courageous, and joyful way of living that challenges our compulsion either to turn away or to turn inward and disconnect ourselves from others”.

We figured that if we could share our resources and space, and enjoy life so fully, we could keep at it, opening our homes more and more, sharing, hosting, feeding others and enjoy to the fullest God’s remarkable economy. Amy Oden writes:

…Hospitality is not so much a singular act of welcome as it is a way, an orientation that attends to otherness, listening and learning, valuing and honoring.”

And to me she summarizes the essence of a beautiful society.

I want to leave you with two practical aspects to keep in mind when undertaking hospitality: Setting boundaries to create a safe space for all. Effective boundary management generates a safe environment. A sense of safety, of course, is fundamental to all relationships. Practice reciprocity – We will be awkward givers if we are reluctant receivers. Henry Nouwen warns about unbalanced relationship:

When only one gives and the other receives, one will soon become an oppressor and the other victim”.

Hospitality is powerful in its simplicity. No matter where we find ourselves, and our perceived resources, we can lift our eyes to notice, slow down to listen and make room because as we’ve heard, in God’s remarkable economy, the more we share the more becomes available. And in the words of Mother Theresa:

We can do no great things – but we can do small things with great love.”

This is just one story that stood out to me recently, posted by a woman from Ukraine on social media.

До 24.02.2022 находясь в своей уютной стране Украина мы даже близко не представляли, а кто такие Румыны?!?! Для нас вы были просто соседняя страна, со своим укладом, традициями и мы никогда не задумывались. Но спустя четыре месяца войны, о Румынах заговорил ВСЕ! Вы оказывается НАЦИЯ С ОГРОМНЫМ СЕРДЦЕМ! Теперь, когда будем говорить про Румынию, у нас автоматически будет складываться в голове «картинка» с добрейшими людьми, с открытыми сердцами, с гостеприимным народом, с невероятными красотами! И теперь Ваше сердце – это визитная карточка вашей страны! И это без преувеличения. Теперь мы через поколения будем проносить наши истории о такой великой стране, как Румыния! Угадайте, теперь куда Украинцы повезут своих детей, чтобы показать, где они жили? Сколько семей подружились?!? Сколько сроднились с Румынскими семьями? Румыния войдёт в историю, как страна спасшая сотни детских душ и это сделали не фонды помощи, не правительство, а ВЫ – РУМЫНСКИЙ НАРОД! Вы своим добрым сердцем подняли демографию, культурное наследие и показали всему миру свой характер нации! Спасибо вам за всё, что вы делаете для нас!!!!

Until 02/24/2022, being in our cozy country of Ukraine, we didn’t even have a close idea, of who are the Romanians?!?! For us, you were just a neighboring country, with your own way of life, traditions, and we never thought about it. But after four months of the war, EVERYONE spoke about the Romanians! You are a NATION WITH A HUGE HEART! Now, when we talk about Romania, we will automatically have a “picture” in our head with the kindest people, with open hearts, with hospitable people, with incredible beauties! And now your heart is the visiting card of your country! And this is no exaggeration. Now we will carry our stories about such a great country as Romania through the generations! Guess now where Ukrainians will take their children to show where they lived? How many families have become friends?!? How many are related to Romanian families? Romania will go down in history as a country that saved hundreds of children’s souls, and this was not done by aid funds, not by the government, but by YOU – THE ROMANIAN PEOPLE! With your kind heart, you raised the demographics, cultural heritage and showed the whole world your character of the nation! Thank you for everything you do for us!!!! 

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