This afternoon I found a hammock, and in it a piece of bliss in the midst my busy next-to-last week of the semester. December has yet to prove to me that it exists in Texas; the near-80 degree days make it hard to believe. I know I risqued to fall asleep by taking my homework to the hammock in my friends’ yard, but I couldn’t resist its beckoning. In the end, my reading sparked some ponderings that kept me awake anyway.
“Hospitality”: why had I never picked up on the closeness of this word to “hospital”? In Cross Cultural Servanthood, Elmer makes the connection and argues that both words involve healing. When most people hear the word hospitality, they think of inviting someone over for a meal or giving someone a bed to sleep on. But Elmer encourages us to broaden our definition. Hospitality means opening ourselves, and it’s a prerequisite for cross-cultural work.
This quote from Miroslav Volf struck me:
The will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying with them in their humanity.
Wow, we’re talking more than bed and breakfast here. What if we started practicing hospitality, not just in rearranging our schedules or furniture to have someone over, but in readjusting our identities as necessary to make space for our fellow man? I think we would start seeing more healing come out of our hospitality.
As I lay in the hammock beneath the tall Texas pines, I felt that familiar Spirit’s whisper convicting me of how short I fall in passing on the grace shown me. The fact is that too often there is not space in my schedule or in my heart for the people around me. I’m notorious for putting tasks before people. It goes with my single-minded focus on accomplishing my plan. When I don’t feel like I can quit a task to make time for people, I figure I can treat them in a neutral way — not blowing them off completely but not letting them interrupt me. That’s where the conviction came in.
Elmer has a way of making a point with extremes. In his appraisal, there is no neutral dealing with another human being. Here’s some food for thought:
Every act toward other human beings is either a sacred or profane act. It either treats them with dignity or it dehumanizes them. We have no other choice. Every human contact requires as openness that invites others into our presence for a moment of grace, if we choose–or a moment of profanity. We profane another person whenever we fail to honor them as human beings.
Am I willing to give myself to others and welcome them, not just when I get overseas but in the here and now, in the daily grind of my studies and support-raising? Can I readjust my identity to make space for people that I don’t understand, not just the alien half-way across the globe but the neighbor around the corner? Will I choose to delay judgment and instead identify first with the humanity in everyone I encounter?
Ironic that all these questions came to me as I enjoyed an afternoon escape in someone else’s hammock. I think we can all think of at least one occasion when someone else invited us into his or her presence for a moment of grace that made us feel safe, gave us the freedom to be ourselves, and helped bring healing. As a Christian I have been shown the ultimate opening and emptying of self in Christ’s death; this measure of love and grace is what I’m called to in showing hospitality to others.
Hold me to this, friends. Interrupt me with reminders of what’s important. And when I get my own hammock, you can come over anytime.