One blog leads to another. My cyberfriend Hystery writes:
I often think about how difficult it is to feel close to other Friends ... Hospitality is a great spiritual gift. I do not refer to the hospitality in which people try to impress each other with fine homes and fine foods, but the kind of hospitality in which hearts and homes are open with a genuine generosity. Could we model that with each other so that Friends' children grew up in a family that extended beyond their biological and/or adoptive kin? We could then model that for others in our communities. How well do we know each other? It is not enough to share an hour of silence followed by polite conversation and a cookie. We have to make ourselves more vulnerable to create a beloved community. That is a difficult and a frightening thing to do for many of us including myself.
What can we do to extend hospitality, especially in a world in which "natural" hospitality seems to have retreated?
A recent blog offered me the gift of remembering that I had a friend in junior high school--as we called it then--who, looking back, I now realize was going hungry. How did I miss it then?
A. I was a child, and it was difficult for me to understand that, in fundamental ways (I understood window dressing differences) other families saw things differently from my own.
B. My friend lived in a bigger house, took better vacations and her father owned a more expensive car than we did. Her home was "done" by an interior decorator, so it had early 1970s glamor items, such as wall-to-wall shag carpeting and pop-art on the walls. It wasn't an environment that cued one to think "hunger." Though I should have seen it, as it was right in front of me, I didn't realize that the family was putting forth an image they couldn't afford, and then "affording" it by not buying food. (These were the days before easy credit.) It wasn't the right frame for me to think of deprivation.
C. My friend never said she was going hungry and encouraged me to think of her worcestershire sauce sandwiches and bird seed eating as quaint eccentricities.
When I remember her, I am reminded that people around us can be suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually, and we might not recognize it because they're the last person/family we would expect to .... fill in the blank or because we can't imagine a certain thing (such as literacy) being a problem.
I am reminded, once again, to be gentler, less judgmental and more open to the people right around me. This doesn't mean unwarranted intrusions into people's privacy, making assumptions, feeling superior or expecting to find things "wrong" behind every facade. Those behaviors make it difficult for any of us to be vulnerable.
I believe the best way to offer the hospitality needed is simply to offer general hospitality. When my childhood friend came to our house, we fed her, not because she was hungry, but because that's what we did. Thus, because we did that, we fed a hungry person. In a sense, we fed Christ. These behaviors were natural and extended to anybody. And we were not a particularly "great" family by any stretch of the imagination.
I do think too, however, that we need to be on the lookout for places where people could be expected to need help, instead of putting the burden on people to "ask." I have been in religious environments in which the whole issue of helping others was dismissed with the statement: "If people want help, they need to ask for it." However, in my experience, often the people most in need of help are often the least able to ask for it. I say this aware that I am terrible at seeing needs that should be obvious, which is where developing better habitual behaviors of hospitality could come in handy.
I believe, because of the testimonies, Quakers are well positioned to offer hospitality in a very natural way. We can respond to the people who, for whatever reason, cross our paths or whose paths we cross. We could make our simple meals, our events and our homes warmer and more open to others, and thus gradually expand our ability to serve.
Finally, what are some other ways to extend hospitality?