Radical Hospitality

I normally don’t post book reviews on my blog, but I feel like this particular view has more of my thoughts lately than others. Radical Hospitality is something that I am truly passionate about. When I was 16, I worked at a horse breeding farm and noticed how therapeutic it was to work with these magnificent creatures. I began to dream of a day when I would offer my home and heart to those who have struggled with abuse. In the past month or so, I have been reminded of that calling and feel all the more strongly that this is what I am to do with my life. This book that I read, and write about below, actually wasn’t the greatest. It has a few gems, but it wasn’t all that radical. I post this to share some of my thoughts around hospitality and to challenge others to consider ways in which they can make their practices of hospitality more radical.

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Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love is a book that tries to practically outline what Benedictine hospitality looks like in our culture and how we can make it a spiritual practice of our own. Written by Benedictine monk Daniel Homan and his friend Lonni Collins Pratt, it is filled with stories and lessons found in showing hospitality to various people at a Benedictine Monastery. In this report, I will outline some of values behind Benedictine hospitality as well as comment on the need for ‘radical’ hospitality in our world today. This book is a good start for people willing to make hospitality a part of their lives. However, I believe that it only scratches the surface of ‘radical’ hospitality.

We live in a world that is increasingly individualistic and about ensuring one’s own security, wealth and accolades. We live in a world of brokenness and even hostility that pervades and separates families, friends, and Christians. In current economic downturns, more people find themselves on the edges of homelessness. Others have always had shelter and other basic needs provided, but lack a sense of ‘home’ and stability.

St. Benedict’s rule continues to speak to us today, providing guidance in such a world and encouraging us to live out a life of hospitality. He writes, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35)” (Rule 53:1). Homan and Pratt attempt to apply this principle to life today. They claim hospitality is “a spiritual practice, a way of becoming more human, a way of understanding yourself. Hospitality is both the answer to modern alienation and injustice and a path to a deeper spirituality” (Homan & Pratt, pg. 5). Hospitality needs to be a central part of who we are as Christians.

Homan and Pratt claim that hospitality is born out of a heart of gratitude and love (Homan & Pratt, pg. 5). God continually lavishes his love and grace upon us and when we come to truly acknowledge and accept this love, we cannot help but pour out love into the lives of those around us. They argue that a person must first be secure in God’s love before they will be able to offer true hospitality that accepts a person for who they are and where they are at in their lives. Moreover, when a person is secure in God’s love, they are filled with gratitude. They write:

Gratitude is an appropriate response once you know who you really are. Gratitude for all the grace that overlooks the worst, while moving you toward your original best self. Gratitude makes it easier to handle all the hard-to-like people who will step into your path (Homan & Pratt, pg. 159).

For Benedict and for Homan and Pratt, we receive Christ whenever we receive a person into our lives. This is referring to both the friend and the stranger. This requires a heart of humility and deep listening to be attentive to Christ in our midst. Sometimes Christ appears in the least expected persons. Moreover, Homan and Pratt remind us that we can be Christ to the person we encounter through hospitality. They write, “When we accept a human being, we are fostering the kind of hospitality that will change everything. When we build a life of acceptance, we build a new kind of kingdom among us” (Homan and Pratt, pg. xxx). When we are rooted in God’s love and have a heart of gratitude, others will see a way of life that is different than what the world offers. It is in both giving and receiving that Christ is made known. Receiving and being Christ is not always convenient. They write:

The stranger is a lot like God, after all, God is constantly disrupting our best plans, God shows up when it is less than convenient, God is present no matter what we do to shoo him off. How we live with all these strangers who keep messing up our plans will determine the future for all of us (Homan & Pratt, pg. 206).

The more rooted we are in Christ, the more able we are to welcome Christ in the stranger and to have the wisdom to know when to set aside our plans in order to receive the person on our doorstep.

Homan and Pratt point out that radical hospitality is countercultural. They claim that “[h]ospitality acknowledges the vulnerability of being human, both [our] humanity and that of the stranger” (Homan & Pratt, pg. 10). We are generally not a culture that wants to acknowledge our own vulnerability. Moreover we struggle to sit with the pain and brokenness of the other. We live in an age where discomfort is met with remedies to ease its pain rather than sit with it. We long for the resurrection, without the cross. Radical hospitality calls us into deeply sitting with our own brokenness and the brokenness of the other, and to allow Christ to meet us both in that brokenness. Radical hospitality, particularly to the stranger, may breed fear within us. Homan and Pratt write, “Acknowledging fear, facing fear, and sitting with it, this is a spiritual approach to hospitality” (Homan & Pratt, pg. 29). Fear should not be a deterrent to radical hospitality, but an opportunity for us to lean more on Christ who strengthens and sustains us.

Homan and Pratt challenge us that “[h]ospitality makes room even for the one who is frighteningly different – the dragon, you might say (Homan & Pratt, pg. 73). I found that their book, however, only began to touch on what I consider to be radical hospitality and leaves many important issues unaddressed. They provided many touching examples of hospitality, yet the most radical of these examples was dealing with the broken teenager or the grief-stricken family. This may be radical in a sense, but I believe that our call as Christians is also to a more radical form of hospitality. Is there a place in our hearts for the homeless, the sick and those who were imprisoned?

I recently went to a Christian group that walks alongside ex-convicts and their families. I learned of the typical way ex-convicts are reintegrated into the community – by living out the remainder of their sentences under the supervision of a parole officer and residing in halfway houses. Is there a way that we as Christians can show hospitality to those with criminal records? I have friends who struggle with deep depression and histories of trauma and desperately need people to walk alongside them. I know others who live their lives on the street, often in patterns of addiction, who smell and are at times awkward in interactions. I know others still who have fled their homes to leave situations of abuse and find themselves with nothing.

This is just a glimpse of people living on the edges of society and practicing hospitality in this way takes on a significant level of risk. How do we show hospitality to the ‘dragons’ of our society? Homan and Collins’ tame hospitality does not speak to this question. There are very real practical questions that come from this kind of radical hospitality. How does one hold another’s pain without being swallowed or consumed by it? How does one treat the other as an adult capable of choosing his own life while watching them make choices that are harmful to himself? How does one take the risk of offering their homes to the homeless, drug addicts, and ex-convicts, while also protecting one’s own home and family?

In conclusion, Homan and Pratt provide a very readable primer on the call to practice radical hospitality in our world today. They challenge us to see Christ in every person we meet and to show Christ’s love to them. As Christians, we need to grapple with the notion of what ‘radical’ hospitality looks like and how we can practice it to both the friend and the stranger.

Bibliography

Fry, Timothy, OSB, ed. The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1982.

Homan, Daniel, OSB, and Lonni Collins Pratt. Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2002.

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