Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Habits and Quaker Hospitality

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?


Hystery said...

I love this post and could offer comments all day. This is one of those times that I really wish I could sit in a room with you with a cup of tea.

In reading the history of nineteenth century human rights activists, many of whom were Friends, I find that the glue that held the Movement together was hospitality. Amy and Isaac Post's home was open to everyone- politician and prostitute, freedom seeker and heretical public speaker alike. It didn't matter. Everyone was safe there. Gerrit Smith (Elizabeth Cady Stanton's cousin)and his wife, Ann, made their home more welcoming to the diverse group of people who came to them by keeping their furnishings simple so nobody felt the sting of inequality. William Lloyd Garrison's family was well-known for their hospitality as were Stanton and Mott.

Simple food and simple furnishing are one step. Another step is one my very hospitable parents taught me: Regardless of connections or station treat every human being in your home or presence as though they are the most important person in the world...because they are.

Anonymous said...

What I'm resonating with right now regarding simple hospitality is being able to let go of my own expectations about the state of my living space at any given moment. And while maybe this SHOULD be easy for me in theory, the reality is, as a full-time work outside the home mother of two young children, most of the time, my house feels like a place that is not honoring guests--it's not even honoring us, let alone someone from outside our family. But I'm trying to take small steps in this regard, and be kinder to myself. This is less about lowering my standards (frankly, these days I feel like I can't even find my standards), and more about changing how I look at my house, and the roles that are required for taking care of it.

Sorry to go on at such length, but evidently, this post hit something in me that I wasn't totally aware I was struggling with. So thank you.


Diane said...


Thanks for this conversation. Tea sounds good!

Diane said...


And I resonate with what you say. When I was working and had young kids, I felt as if my house was chaos all the time. I felt that guests equalled judgment. I don't know what the answer is, because telling someone they shouldn't have those feelings--which people would tell me--doesn't really help. You have the feelings you have. I can only say that since I've been there, I know what it is, and I would not judge you, but that doesn't solve the fundamental issue, which is feeling comfortable about opening our homes. I suppose we could all hold that up to the light.

Hystery said...

I agree that Mia's point is important. My own ability to grow in hospitality has had much to do with being a mother and having too little time and too much work. It has to do with social class, economic status, and of course, gender. Women are still carrying the weight of responsibility for domestic labor. When we are too overwhelmed to "do it all and have it all" then we have guilt and we fear judgment.

The nineteenth-century Friends I mention were just at the beginning stages of wrestling with gender. How have Friends addressed the real-life expectations still placed on women, especially mothers? I am reminded strongly of my mother's commentary on Luke 10: 38-42 in which Martha says to Jesus, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?" and to which Jesus responded that Mary, who had chosen to sit and listen to him preach "had chosen the good portion." Mom always said, "Well, if Jesus and the disciples got up and helped Martha with the work, then everyone, including Martha, could have sat together."

Diane said...

I do think we've put up high boundaries to maintain some control over our busy lives ... I keep thinking of my immigrant relatives, who by necessity (tiny, often substandard apartments) who met friends in public places--restaurants and the church basement to be precise--because they really couldn't entertain. While it misses the intimacy of a home, using public spaces more, especially those that are child friendly, could be part of the answer.