"Hospitality: Opening space in our hearts and lives to give and receive in relationship with neighbors and strangers in need."


Reflection on Benedictine Hospitality

   By Marilyn Grantham, Oblate OSB
 As a young man, Benedict of Nursia (480-543 CE) was sent to Rome to continue his education.  Distressed by the sinfulness all around him, he fled and took refuge in a cave near Subiaco.  There for three years, Benedict lived as a hermit and  immersed himself in studying the scriptures.  When he emerged and became a vowed monastic, he wrote his Rule, a detailed set of guidelines for monastics to follow, based on a deep understanding of the scriptures.  As a result, the Rule of St.  Benedict, still studied and followed today, is thoroughly grounded in the scriptures ... and the way Jesus followed on earth. The Rule is very clear about monastic hospitality ... based on Mt. 25:35 and Gal. 6:10 ... all visitors are to be welcomed as  Christ.  One monk is assigned to be the porter ... the monastic stationed at the door who welcomes anyone who comes ... everyone equally, without regard for station or condition.  The porter alerts the community that they have a guest(s) and  everyone, led by the abbott or prior (or the prioress) invites the newcomer(s) to pray and then dine with them as honored guests.

 In her latest book, Monastery of the Heart, An Invitation to a Meaningful Life (2011), Sr. Joan Chittister, Benedictine scholar, writer and speaker, expanded on the importance and impact of Christian hospitality, on those who provide it, as well as those  who receive it.  She begins by noting that being hospitable to those who are "our kind of people" ... people who "look like us and think like us" isn't what the scriptures and the Rule have in mind in terms of "community".  Benedict intended that the monastic community welcome everyone equally ... the rich and the poor, the slave and the free, the young and the old, artists and craftsmen, peasants and noblemen ... a "motley crew".  "The point is clear," Sr. Joan says ... "The guest to the Benedictine is much more than simply another social contact."  Our "community" is much more than those immediately around us.

Sr. Joan continues ... "The Benedictine ... is actually on the lookout for guests, for their needs, for their wisdom.  Thank God, you've come ... disturb our perfect lives.  Guests bring us to God in the guise of the immediate and the urgent, the uncomfortable and the unknown.  They expose our emptiness of heart and total self-centeredness, when we may not even know ourselves that it exists."


Hospitality: A Community Meal

 By Blair Pogue         

Imagine hosting a dinner for 2,000 neighbors! That's just what St. Paul artist Seitu Jones and many helpers hope to do in Frogtown in September 2014. This past Monday afternoon, I traveled to Jones' Frogtown studio for a tour and to hear my son Luke and one of his fifth-grade classmates interview the artist about his vision to bring neighbors together for a dinner table conversation about food traditions, food access, and food justice.

            In September 2014, up to 2,000 people will share a meal at a table a half-mile long set in the middle of Victoria Street. Local chefs will prepare a meal made from healthy, local food. Spoken word artists and the young people they mentor will perform a piece examining the diverse food traditions and rituals of Frogtown's inhabitants - men, women, and children representing many countries and cultures. The goal is, according to a promotional flier, "one wave in a sea of change that will make the city healthier, more beautiful, more environmentally sustainable and more just. We all have something to bring to the table."

            What would it be like to invite your immediate neighborhood to dinner, let alone a neighborhood or section of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Shoreview, Eagan, or Woodbury?! What if your goal at that dinner and in the days leading up to it was to ask people to share their stories with you? In Jones' case, he went out into the neighborhood and approached people as they bought food, prepared food, and gathered food to eat it in homes, restaurants, and yards. He asked four questions: What is your favorite food story? What do you talk about over dinner? Where do you buy food? And what is your favorite recipe?

            Time spent around a table can be life-giving or painful. You can have a long and meaningful dinner and conversation around a table, or you can eat quickly and run. You can take a risk and invite new people including people outside your normal social orbit to your table, or you can continue to dine only with your family and people you know well. Stories and lives can be shared over tables, or they can be places of pain and dysfunction.

            Each week we gather around a shared table at St. Matthew's. Before the meal we share some of our most treasured sacred stories, and listen for God's word to us. We are reminded that God is always in our midst, working through the bread, wine, prayers, and time of reflection to help us become the people God created us to be. While we recognize many faces at that table, there are hopefully always new faces. There are also people we recognize but don't begin to know until we sit, feast together, share stories, and make ourselves vulnerable in the parish hall.

            We all have something to bring to the table. And those who sit at different tables, or don't have a table, also have something to share. Are we willing to take the risk of awkward silences, saying something embarrassing, or being rejected in order to experience God's presence in the other? Are we willing to share God's love and bounty with others? Are we willing to receive a new revelation from God through them? Remember, "the table of bread and wine is now made ready" and, most importantly, "it is Christ who invites us to meet him here."


Reflection on Hospitality

by Joan Hershbell

When I think about the practice of hospitality I am reminded of two examples that have formed me.  During the Second World War and for several years after, my mother and I lived in hotels, motels and rooming houses.  I always felt that I did not really belong anyplace until we would return East to my grandparents’ tiny apartment.  Despite the crowded living arrangements they opened their arms and hearts whenever we returned to them.  My tiny chair and table with a little yellow teapot on it would be waiting for me.  My grandparents shared their space, time, stories and love which made me feel special.

Years later, as a newlywed, I was often invited into the home of a neighbor who shared recipes (and her Gourmet magazines!) and who served as a role model as a loving parent and step parent.  We shared many meals over nearly 50 years.  Three years ago when she was in frail health and connected to oxygen she insisted upon preparing a meal for me to cook for us the next day when we visited.  Sharing that meal was especially memorable because she died just six weeks later. What an example of radical hospitality.  The memory of her generous, loving hospitality lives on.

So it is that I want to try replicate the feelings in others that I have experienced. To acknowledge how special each person is by sitting at a meal together, sharing stories and taking the time to build a connection.  It is to see the Christ in another by generously opening one’s arms, home and heart.  It is to be aware of being surrounded by God’s love.

It is, of course, always easier to be open and loving and hospitable to the people we know.  There is more risk to be open and giving to the stranger.  It can be more difficult to see Christ in those who live or act differently from us.  Yet, the real gift is the discovery of whom the stranger may really be.  Once, years ago my four year old daughter and I were walking in the neighborhood at dusk when an Ethiopian man approached us looking for a place to eat.  At the time there were no restaurants open on Sunday evening so, naturally, we invited him home for supper.  It turned out that he was a theology student at Luther Seminary and by accepting our hospitality his gift to us was greater than that which we had given him.