My Dad recently posted about hospitality on his blog. I loved reading his thoughts and asked him if I could share it on my blog ... he said yes ! Grab a cuppa, it may take a few minutes to read .... but it will be well worth your time.
A couple of months ago, the idea came into my head to write something about hospitality. It came to me as I thought of all the wonderful times we have enjoyed and do enjoy when friends come to dinner or stay at our home or when we are hosted by others. I began to think of the great models of hospitality we have known in our lives, from friends and family who would host our visit when we came home on leave from around the world; to Bob and Vicki, who were with us in YWAM community in Spain; to Capt B and his wife, he the OIC/CO who had the greatest impact on my life in the Navy; to Don H and family, our chaplain in Spain and now the proprietor of the marvelous Spanish import store, La Tienda; to our friends Jim and Sue, who share their peaceful Estes Park home, Beit Shalom. The more I think about it, the more I see how much hospitality we have been shown throughout our lives.
I remembered delicious and often elegant meals, refreshing drinks, tasty teas and coffees, conversations, lively games and entertainments, as well as the little things that make one feel special upon arrival. I remember Vicki putting flowers and perhaps some tasty chocolates in guest rooms—along with a card welcoming them. That extra bit of effort made all the difference.
When we think of hospitality, often the first thing that comes to mind is food. My cousin Lissa kids that our family always takes pictures of the food, but we are really commemorating the people with whom we shared that food. The food is the occasion for the fellowship and as Antonio, her husband, likes to say, we are creating wonderful memories. These are the good old days, he says, for some future day in which, by the way, we’ll be busy making more good old days—not living in the past.
Yet, hospitality is much more than just serving good food and drink to our guests. True and complete hospitality involves sharing ourselves, our lives, with others and taking others into our hearts. There is an honesty and openness about welcoming others into our homes and to our table that says, “Here we are. What you see is what you get. We would love to get to know you, if you are willing.”
The biblical story of the Garden of Eden patterns the first hospitality. The Creator of the universe made a hospitable planet and planted a garden with all kinds of trees and plants in the midst of clear, cool, refreshing waters. The guests’ needs were perfectly provided for—nothing was held back.
Abraham is an archetype of hospitality. Sitting in his tent (which tradition says was open on all sides to provide for the needs of travelers), recovering in the heat of the day from his recent circumcision (at the age of 99!), he nevertheless jumps up and runs to greet three who approached, one of whom turned out to be the Almighty himself. He rushes to bring them water, both to drink and to bathe their feet, food to eat, and a place to rest before they should go on their way. Such was the way of Abraham and Sarah in greeting guests. It is said that Abraham required only that the guests return thanks to the one, true and living God in exchange for this hospitality (but nothing for himself).
The annual family reunion is a great example of hospitality. Kathy’s family has been meeting together every year for nearly 60 years. For one fine weekend in late summer, we gather at a hotel near one or another of our homes, and we celebrate life together. We talk, laugh, talk, eat, talk, sing, talk, swim, joke, tease, get serious occasionally, and just enjoy one another’s presence. We have often spoken of the family reunion as a kind of hospital—a place we can enter, broken and battered by the challenges and vicissitudes of daily life, into a world of complete love and acceptance for a time. Hospitality.
I was amazed to find out (although I don’t know why) that the words hospital, hospitality, and host all come from the same Latin root. The root is hospes, which means guest, host, or stranger, and the related word hostis, means stranger or even enemy. So guests, hosts, and strangers are tied closely together in this word hospitality. Daughter Bonnie brought it together in this way, “A hospital is a place where strangers are welcomed in order to be healed. Therefore, hospitality is about welcoming strangers... in order that they may be made whole again.” Interestingly, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the usage of hospital as “shelter for the needy” predates the usage “institution for sick people” by about three hundred years, but the two meanings are clearly intimately entangled.
Jesus taught, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Although we may not find occasion to welcome these folks into our own homes, we can support organizations that do, and we may volunteer with such organizations to bless these precious ones. I would suggest also, however, that there are those in our immediate circle of friends and acquaintances who are spiritually, emotionally and/or psychologically poor, crippled, lame, or blind. Are there any among us who can honestly say we do not suffer one or the other of these maladies in some way or another?
Our homes and our tables should be “hospitals” in which we make one another whole—healing the emotionally crippled, giving sight to the spiritually blind, binding up the broken-hearted, friending the unfriended, setting free the captive, building one another up in all of these realms, and providing a place of joy and song and fellowship and blessing for all through our hospitality. This is providing true shalom, which in all of its fullness means wholeness, completeness—that we might be complete, lacking in nothing.
Daughter Ellie states it well. She says, “I think hospitality means inviting people into your life. Sometimes it does mean bringing out the best and showing them that they are worth the effort, but other times, it means giving them a glimpse of your normal life. Letting them see that life is good, and something to be enjoyed to the fullest…even when it’s messy.” I love that. Bringing people into your life, bringing them into your heart. Friend Rich once commented that our home is “one of the happiest places in Colorado.” Toby’s friends recently said, “When we were there, they made us feel like family.” Those statements bless us so much for that is what we strive for our home to be—a place of happiness and blessing, of family, a place of hospitality, reflecting the hospitality we have been shown so bountifully.
As God showed that first hospitality to the couple in the Garden—inviting them into his life, into his heart, so we invite others into our lives, into our hearts with our hospitality. So may it be in increasing measure.
I asked friends and family for their understanding of hospitality, and I received so many great responses, I want to share some of them here for future reference.
The most humorous response came from brother-in-law Larry, who said that hospitality is a fatality caused by running into a hospital! (One for the Alternate Dictionary to be sure, but there’s that connection between hospital and hospitality, too.)
Friend and former shipmate Jim L. said that being hospitable includes respect, i.e. greetings (good morning, how are you, etc.), smiles, courtesies (please and thank you). It is like the Boy Scout motto (be prepared). He said further that, growing up, family and friends were always welcome and walked right into the house because they knew they were welcome. “We did not have much growing up, but we freely shared what we had.” What beautiful examples of hospitality.
Friend Ingrid remembers her mother making everything special for visitors, and Ingrid does the same. Out come the good cups and saucers, the nice plates, a nice table cloth, and cakes on a nice plate. She wants always to make her guests feel special by taking the time and trouble to share her best things—the best of herself—with her guests. It reminds me of a quote from Rex Stout’s fictional detective, Nero Wolfe, who said “The guest is a jewel resting on the cushion of hospitality.” Ingrid likens it to the Friday night celebration of Shabbat, a special time to bring out special dishes, table clothes, to prepare the house for guests, and to serve a fine meal with wine.
Co-worker and friend Rick points out that hospitality is a trait that is learned from one’s upbringing, from past generations, and from the social environment in which one grows up. My memories of the models of hospitality in our life are what led me to write something in the first place, so I cannot disagree. He opines that if one is grounded and confident, one will be more gracious and welcoming.
Cousin Sharon, who lived in Austria for years, expanding on Ingrid’s response, was astonished at the formality and beauty of the table set when invited for coffee in that country. There would be a beautiful table cloth, lovely china, cake and cookies—homemade or from some local bakery, gleaming silverware and a bowl piled high with fresh whipped cream. And as a guest she felt cherished and honored. She quickly learned that Austrians brought fresh flowers to the host on such occasions—a beautiful way to recognize the gift of hospitality.
In Greece, living on the island of Santorini, Sharon found a very different hospitality—equally warm but much less formal. There were occasions when Greeks would pull out all the stops and set a lavish banquet table for friends and family—the women would cook for days, bring out their best linens, china and glasses. There would be free-flowing wine—usually from their own vineyards or from the village their family came from. But what struck her most was the informal hospitality that friends were welcomed any time and that dropping by was the norm (as Jim L. shared earlier). When she was flustered that her apartment, which was also her artist’s studio, was cluttered with silk painting in progress, she would be reassured, “Sharon, we came to visit you, not your house.” She learned to keep snacks on hand for visitors who dropped in unexpectedly. And she observed that Greeks always offered a glass of water and fruit preserves (called a “spoon sweet” in contrast to finger-food sweets like cookies or chocolates). A bowl of fancy chocolates was always kept on hand—individually wrapped and festive looking—to offer to guests. While a guest often enjoys coffee or a glass of wine or juice, if it is a quick visit, everyone accepts a glass of water, recognizing and receiving the hospitality.
Kathy’s co-worker Debbie, a four-time visitor to Greece, including Santorini, agreed with Sharon’s articulation of the lavishness of Greek hospitality. She said she didn’t think she had ever eaten as much as she did in Greece. One woman, after setting two tables full of food, said she wished she had had time to make more! And they really couldn’t afford to do it, but they made their guests feel very special, indeed.
Debbie was also astonished at the hospitality of local villagers in Yemen, who would invite you in and offer you tea and sunflower seeds, or in one instance, the last piece of bread and the one bottle of Coca-Cola they had been saving for a special occasion.
Friend and former shipmate George offered this beautiful point of view. “To me hospitality means making your guests feel as if they are the most important people in the world to you at that time. You listen to them, care about what they say, make them feel at home, provide something to eat or drink, allow them to choose where to sit and talk, and offer assistance in any concerns or needs they may have. In other words, simply be there for them 100% while they are in your presence. Don’t answer that phone! Walk away from the TV!”
Sister-in-law Heather distilled it all as follows: “Hospitality is simply making sure people feel welcome.”
Friend-from-YWAM-Spain Bill observes that children need to see hospitality and the grace of good food, friendship and conversation modeled for them. It needs to start early, or it will not be imprinted on their minds. We so often miss the important for the urgent; the garden of hospitality needs time and care to become a desirable meeting place.
Friend and medical worker Christi wrote that when she would have conferences with families in her clinic, she would get a pitcher of water and glasses and make sure everyone had water. Kindness goes a long way, and since some of the conferences were about things not going well, mouths would get very dry when tensions were high.
One of the great things about this discussion on Facebook was that it brought together six distinct groups of family and friends, few of whom had met one another outside their own group, to share thoughts on a vital subject. As for Bob and Vicki, about whom I began to write, Vicki has put together an excellent five-page teaching on hospitality from a biblical perspective that she is likely willing to share. Capt. B and his wife now own and operate a Bed & Breakfast—what a great way to show hospitality.
May we all continue to give and receive hospitality in increasing measure and find new and creative ways to be hospitable, one to another.
While researching this topic, I discovered a fascinating 76-page PDF exposition of hospitality here.