Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, was going to a monastery for a retreat. The monks observed vows of silence and the retreat was to be meditative and prayerful. Nouwen was delayed and was late getting to the Monastery on a very miserable, rainy night. Upon his arrival, he rang the bell and was met at the door by one of the brothers. He warmly greeted Henri, took his wet coat, took him to the kitchen and made him a cup of tea. They chatted into the late night hours and Nouwen began to relax and feel ready for the retreat. He knew this monk was supposed to observe silence, so he finally asked him, “Why are you willing to sit and talk with me?” The monk replied, “Of all the duties of the Christian faith and the rules of my order, none is higher than hospitality.”
The church is a community as well, and hospitality should be a primary focus. Today’s church should be a place of welcome to all who come our way. There should be no connotation that only “rule followers” are welcome at the church. I fear that we have forgotten the concept of radical hospitality and confused it with assimilation into our group. If the church is to practice true hospitality, it must practice inclusiveness. That means no one is barred from total participation in the life of the church. I am concerned that we have lost sight of a most important tenet of Christianity. I thank the monastics for giving us a reminder.
Prayer Thought – Lord help me to remember that the open door of hospitality can have eternal consequences.
From the rule of St. Benedict, Sixth Century A.D. “If any pilgrim monk come from distant parts, with wish as a guest to dwell in the monastery, and will be content with the customs which he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds, he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires. If, indeed, he find fault with anything, or expose it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbot shall discuss it prudently, lest perchance God has sent him for this very thing. But if he have been found gossipy and contumacious in the time of his sojourn as guest, not only ought he not to be joined to the body of the monastery, but also it shall be said to him, honestly, that he must depart. If he does not go, let two stout monks, in the name of God, explain the matter to him.
True hospitality to the pilgrim is difficult enough, but dealing with someone that disrupts the community is even harder. The solution proposed by Benedict is quite radical by our standards. Perhaps the 21st century could learn from him. Who knows?
- The Rule of St. Benedict (knowltonss.wordpress.com)
Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
1 Peter 4:9-10
Monastic hospitality is the model for us today. The monastic way of hospitality holds the key to the future of the church, at least here in the United States. Monastic hospitality requires that the Monastery doors be open to all Christians who present themselves to the porter at the gate. Churches and Christians need to realize this kind of hospitality may require changes of attitude, and even lifestyles, so that the church can be a more vital place ministering to others in the twenty first century.
Our challenge is to finds ways that we can practice hospitalty in our everyday lives. When the “open door” becomes a way of life for us God will bring blessings to our lives. We can all practice hospitality in simple ways. Here are a few.
- Throw a party and invite someone new.
- Greet strangers as Jesus did.
- Invite someone to your home for a meal.
- Host mission volunteers.
- Prepare someone’s favorite food for them.
- Turn the TV off and log off the computor when a guest arrives.
- Simply welcome unexpected guests.
- Make your guest feel like you are interested in them.
Dictionary.com defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” I think the keyword here is “friendly” because we can receive people and show no feelings at all.
We can receive them coldly, or make it obvious that we’re put out.I think in our American culture many of us have forgotten what it means to be hospitable. Sure we all put on a good face when we have people over on our terms (like for a dinner party), but what about being hospitable when it is an inconvenience for us? I think about when people stop by our home and we’re watching TV.