“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Romans 12:13
Hospitality. The word evokes for me images of church fellowship halls, lined with long tables, loaded with steaming offerings for the Sunday afternoon potluck dinner. I can smell the coffee, hear the buzz of conversation, and feel the late summer humidity as if I stand there now.
This charming snapshot offers a small view of a much larger concept.
Hospitality also carries reference to our ability to welcome others into our home. Do we frequently invite friends for dinner or overnight stays, seeing to their every need with the efficiency of a hotel staff? How well do we keep our floors clean, clutter stowed, coffee at the ready for an impromptu guest?
(I have to confess, my home does not represent this description of hospitality as well as I would like.)
This home-sharing still falls short of a full understanding of how one practices hospitality.
On a more theological level, I have heard hospitality discussed as a spiritual gift, or a Christian duty. Either certain persons are endowed with a special ability in this area, or all believers are equally expected to practice it. Personally, I find either end of this spectrum sucks all the joy from the spirit of what hospitality was ever intended to be. Who wants to come to my house and discover I put mints on their pillows out of a sense of moral obligation?
Of more urgent import, how does a believer without a home of her own fulfil her Christ-given call to practice hospitality? If all believers are called to this practice, then hospitality must mean something different than being a good cook or an excellent housekeeper.
In the final chapter of God in the Yard, L.L. Barkat offers hospitality as a gentle spiritual discipline. She defines it differently than the stereotypes, using a quote from Danny Meyer in Setting the Table:
“Service is a monologue–how we want to do things and set our own standards… Hospitality, on the other hand, is a dialogue. To be on the guest’s side requires listening to that person with every sense and following up with a thoughtful, gracious, appropriate response.”
I think the hospitality about which we so often hear, involving food, coffee, and a welcoming home, more accurately belongs in the service category. Meyer’s definition moves hospitality away from a prescribed ritual, and into a state of mind. And I am much more comfortable with this definition of hospitality.
When I cultivate a lifestyle of hospitality, I interact graciously with the world around me. Those within my sphere of influence receive my respectful attention, and my best effort to be others-centered. Essentially, when others come into my presence, I consider it my responsibility to help them feel welcome there, and to feel at home.
Sounds a little royal–a bit uppity–doesn’t it? But I take confidence from my value as a member of God’s eternal kingdom; also, each personal interaction provides me opportunity to represent God’s hands at work. So yes, it is a bit royal, because I am acting on behalf of the ultimate King. And that might be the way the King intended hospitality to look from the beginning.
Oh, and if your church is having a potluck in the fellowship hall next Sunday night, I will definitely accept a hospitable invitation to join you. I can smell the coffee already.