Sunday, April 08, 2007

Offering hospitality to the active life of the living God

Robin M over at What Canst Thou Say has a guest post from Brian Drayton, following up on a talk Brian made to Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church a few weeks ago. It is a beautiful post, in the style of an old-fashioned epistle. The title of my post comes from this sentence in the second paragraph:

Our mission, our calling, is to offer hospitality to the active life of the living God, and so all ministry is given to help each other in this great task.
The remainder of Brian's epistle talks about "place of stillness, when the many voices calling and commanding us from self, society, and culture can be set into the background, and for a while, to our surprise, lose their command over our attention."

But I want to play a bit more with the hospitality angle. Brian's use of the term "hospitality" reminded me of Henri Nouwan for whom hospitality was central. In his book, Reaching Out, he lists characteristics of authentic hospitality (paraphrased here):
1. Free and friendly space - creating physical, emotional, and spiritual space for the newcomer to join us.

2. Stranger becomes a guest - in that atmosphere of hospitality, the stranger is treated like a guest and potential friend.

3. Guest protected - hospitality requires that we offer protection or "sanctuary" to the guest.

4. Host gives gifts - the host welcomes the guest by providing the best gifts possible.

5. Guest gives gifts - in that environment of hospitality, the guest often reciprocates and gives gifts to the host, too.

6. Poverty of heart and mind - in order for us as hosts to receive the "gifts" that our guests bring, we need an attitude which Nouwen calls "poverty of heart and mind" - in other words, we have to believe that we don 't know it all and have not experienced it all, but we are receptive to learn from newcomers.

7. All guests are important, gifted - in the environment of hospitality, we discover that all guests are important and gifts, even those we might least suspect.

8. Acceptance, not hostility - Nouwen reminds us that hospitality is based upon acceptance, not hostility, especially the kinds of subtle hostility which makes fun of newcomers or puts the newcomer into embarrassing situations.

9. Compassion - hospitality is basically a sense of compassion, a realization that we are more alike than we are different.

10. Confrontation, honesty - hospitality is not being a doormat to the guest, it includes confronting one another in honesty, as well as with compassion.

11. God as the ultimate Host - hospitality reminds us that we are all guests of God who is the ultimate Host who welcomes us.
Nouwen is speaking in concrete, ethical terms, of how to offer hospitality to other people in ordinary day-to-day life, which is certainly one way of understanding what the "active work of the living God" is all about. But what if we would turn point 11 around and begin to think of God as the ultimate Guest for whom we have the honor to offer hospitality? Could the image of Quaker meetings being engaged in offering hospitality to God be a useful organizing concept?

I am not sure it would be quite accurate to characterize God as a "stranger" to our meetings. (He certainly had a strongly felt presence at ours this morning.) But I think it's safe to say that he doesn't visit as often as we would like. Can we do things to make him feel more welcome?

What can we do to make our meetings for worship and business as free and friendly places where we provide space for God to visit and do his work?

How can we provide God sanctuary and protection from the unfriendly and doubting world that denies his very existence and in which his active life is not welcome? Is it possible to keep at least some of the world at bay in the physical and spiritual space of our meetings?

Can we practice true poverty of heart and mind so that we are able to receive the gifts our Guest wishes to give us? Are we willing to give up our preconceptions?

Do we have the courage to engage in honest confrontation with God, where we are able to not only follow the way he leads us on, but to also engage honestly, as Jesus did when he asked that the bitter cup he was about to face be removed? Are we willing to argue with God when we don't understand?

I realize the limitations of this metaphor. We are the ones who have become estranged from God, not he from us. There is a certain presumptiousness to even think that we have anything to offer God in the form of a gift. Nevertheless, making a place in my life where God would feel welcome, where I'd clear away the clutter and chatter of my own active life to give him my undivided attention sounds like a good idea.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello there from a random reader. :)

Thanks for posting about this book; I'd never heard of it before. Sounds like a good read...