“The essence of hospitality is a heart open to God, with room prepared for the Guestness of the Holy Spirit, that welcomes the presence of Christ. This is what we share with those to whom we open our doors. We give them Him.”–Karen Burton Mains
From the minute I arrived at Laity Lodge I felt room prepared. Yes, there was a literal room waiting for me, but the spirit of every aspect of this place whispered, “Welcome. You will meet Him here.”
I loved how during the first evening, Tim, one of the Laity employees, briefly explained the kind of hospitality we would experience in our days there. Always beautiful pottered mugs and hot coffee and tea waiting for us in the reception area of the dining hall. Always fruit and snacks waiting. If we needed or wanted anything at all, just ask. After a clanging bell was rung, the most lovely and healthy meals were served family style. We gathered around a table of strangers and friends who were in reality brothers and sisters from the same Father.
I was perhaps one of the attendees who was most on the fringe. Never once did I feel left out of the group. Just the opposite, I experienced open arms, listening ears and sincere hearts. I use the phrase, “To know and be known by you” frequently in my close friendships. I did not coin this term. It comes from Parker Palmer’s To Know as We Are Known where he describes hospitality as a “way of receiving each other, our struggles, our newborn ideas with openness and care. It means creating an ethos in which the community of truth can form.”
One of the things I was most anxious about in deciding to attend The High Calling retreat was sharing a room with someone I did not know. I arrived in an earlier group and settled into my space before my roommate arrived. Since deciding to attend I had prayed about who God would choose to share my space. I thoughtfully made a little tote bag of gifts to leave on their bed. Gifts. My love language. I haven’t shared a room with a stranger since college, and even then I did not do it well. When the door opened this beautiful woman came in, and her face seemed disappointed, even sad. She had come to the retreat thinking she was rooming with someone else. Someone she knew. Someone who was more important. Someone who had a large blog following and a published book. Someone who she could learn from and grow from because of knowing her. Who in the world is Monica Snyder from Uniontown, Ohio? I greeted her and told her I had been praying for her. She answered, “Oh, I haven’t!” We began to laugh. She explained how this room change turned her idea of what the retreat would be upside down. We hugged. I’m not sure who welcomed who, but it was comfortable and easy from that moment on. We told a little of our stories, a place I think everyone should start. How can I be with you if I know nothing about you? We headed out to dinner, and she welcomed me at “her” table and introduced me to the many she already knew. I silently exhaled. There was room for me. Caryn and I became very close during our time together. Except for my older sister, Rochelle, I can’t remember such late nights of sharing and laughing and “Oh, one more thing and then we HAVE to go to sleep.” I believe we will be lifelong friends and know God planned the room switcheroo for reasons we can’t even understand just yet. I am grateful for the willingness of this precious woman’s heart to open a space where our truth could meet.
I’m thinking about welcome as we begin Advent. Our Savior’s story begins with Mary making room in her heart and rearranging all notions about what her life would look like to welcome God made man into her womb. As Mary and Joseph traveled the night her labor pains began to come steady and strong they we told there was ” . . . no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
Eugene Peterson wrote a beautiful poem about “Hospitality” from a small volume of his work titled Holy Luck. I love how he takes us from welcoming Jesus, something we think we would all heartily agree to do, to opening our hearts and homes to others who are broken angels unaware; to those who are Christ people in their messy state. Long after they are gone your sacrifice of welcome may become the story that saves and even raises you from the deadness into life.
Benedict taught us well: Receive
Each guest as Christ. The bell rings, the door
Opens. Some unexpected, and some, yes,
Unwelcome. Our guest book spills out photos.
Christ abused. Christ the fool,
Christ sullen, Christ laughing,
Christ angry, Christ envious,
Christ bewildered, Christ on crutches.
Like Gospel writers of old we pray
And reminisce over left behind guest signs–
A bra, a sock, a scribbled thank you–
And let them grow into stories. Sometimes
It takes an unhurried while. Then,
There it is: absences become Presence. Resurrection.