To a disciple who was attempting forms of spirituality that bordered on the bizarre the Teacher was heard to say, "Holiness is a mysterious thing: The greater it is, the less it is noticed."
(Anthony de Mello)
An 18th century icon of the Holy Trinity was painted by the Russian artist Andrei Rublev. It was inspired by the mysterious but wonderful story of hospitality found in the Torah (Genesis 18). As you may recall, three strangers appear at the home of Abraham and Sarah and are treated royally, as if they were God himself. And that, in fact, is what the Genesis narrative and Rublev's painting wants us to see.
Hospitality, as practiced by Abraham and Sarah, blesses God and in turn brings a surprise blessing to us!
Hospitality is indeed a lost art, practice, and virtue. Our lives are busy — full of noise, crowded with appointments, ballgames, deadlines, and numerous church activities. Hospitality takes time and an unhurried presence, something few, if any of us, have these days. Tragically, when hospitality is eliminated or neglected, the Trinity's presence is missed!
The good news is that hospitality can, and must, be reclaimed. Call it what you will, but we must slow down, creating "down time," "family time," and "unhurried leisure" so that hospitality becomes possible. This will not be easy and will likely require a reprioritizing of our busy calendars. While hospitality takes great intentionality and can be costly, the rewards are without measure-far greater than we can ever imagine! Consider what the Hebrew writer said when he wrote:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 NRS)
This passage confirms what the Genesis 18 story highlights: when we welcome guests or strangers into our midst and treat them with kindness, we are blessing God. Seldom will we recognize with our physical eyes a guest as the face of God; however, in a very real sense this is reality, the meaning behind the sacred symbol of hospitality.
The story of Abraham and Sarah declares another mystery about hospitality. That is, as we show hospitality to others and seek to bless them, we are in turn blessed by God. Make no mistake: I am not saying we practice hospitality so that we might benefit. However, God is present in each person — even in the least and the last ... perhaps more so! Unexpectedly, God also uses the guest to become in a sense the host — that is, the one who often brings the greater blessing. This happens in Genesis 18 as the Three not only are served, but serve, bringing laughter into the home by the long-awaited promise of a child.
Like all the disciplines, hospitality is a spiritual exercise and one that takes effort and practice. But, hospitality is more than worth any effort we might exert, for not only will it strengthen our spiritual muscles, it will also bring a delightful blessing to God, others, and ourselves.
In closing, here a few concrete exercises you might want to try as a means by which you can grow in the grace of hospitality.
- Look for a guest at church and invite them to lunch, asking them to tell their story and share yours as well. As Eugene Peterson points out in his fascinating book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, "Stories are verbal acts of hospitality."
- Have an Ice Cream party in your neighborhood, asking each person to bring their favorite flavor.
- Be a mentor for a youth.
- Volunteer to be a guide for recently arrived foreigners in your city.
- Host an exchange student or volunteer to take an exchange student on a tour of your favorite site.
- Invite someone that you don't know well into your home for a meal or dessert.
- Last-but certainly not least-seek to "be present" to each person you encounter. Simply being aware of others, looking them in the eye, and welcoming a stranger into your space may be the most important and neglected hospitable practice of all!