When I am expecting guests I typically work myself into a frothy frenzy. Not only do I plunge headlong into the standard pre-party chores – vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, grocery shopping, dusting, de-cobwebbing – I also tackle what most people would consider “deep cleaning.”
I scrub the baseboards. I polish the hardwood floors. I re-grout the tub. Once I even repainted an entire wall in my living just hours before my dinner guests arrived. I’d intended to touch up a few scuff marks but accidently used the wrong paint.
Suffice to say, by the time the doorbell rang I looked and felt like I’d just completed the Iditarod. Not only did I barely have the energy to put dinner on the table, I was too exhausted to enjoy myself or the company of my guests.
It probably goes without saying: hospitality is not one of my spiritual gifts. Or at least this is what I’ve always assumed.
But surprisingly, a monk named Benedict of Nursia has shown me that I might have the gift of hospitality – or at least the potential for it — after all.
Now, you might wonder what in the world a fifteenth-century bald monk in a brown bathrobe living in a monastery with a bunch of other bald monks in brown bathrobes would have to say about hospitality, but listen to this:
“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received Me.’”
That’s a quote from The Rule of Saint Benedict, which Benedict wrote as a guideline to help his monks live better together in a monastic community. And as it turns out, fifteenth-century monks received more than their fair share of guests.
Unlike most of the guests we welcome into our homes, the guests the Benedictine monks received were usually strangers — often pilgrims who appeared on their doorstep unannounced, looking for shelter and sustenance. And it’s this detail that has opened a whole new understanding of hospitality for me.
When we define hospitality as what happens around our own dining room table and with our own family and friends, we limit its scope and potential. We stop far short of the kind of hospitality Christ had in mind. In Jesus’ eyes, hospitality includes how we welcome and receive everyone – not just the guests we invite to cross our thresholds, but those who cross our paths in ordinary, everyday ways as well.
Last week two men rang my doorbell as their truck idled at the curb. They had arrived to deliver my new sofa.
The men were Latino and spoke very little English, so we communicated mainly in gestures and clipped sentences. As they wrangled the heavy pieces of furniture through my front door, unwrapped the plastic, and positioned the sections in the space I’d cleared, I hung back. I leaned against the doorframe of the living room with my arms crossed and watched, occasionally gesturing awkwardly when a piece needed to be shifted a little more to the right or to the left.
When the two men had placed the last part of the sectional, I signed the appropriate paperwork, thanked them and then walked them to the door.
That, my friends, was a missed opportunity for hospitality.
Granted they didn’t speak much English, but I didn’t even try to be friendly. I didn’t offer them a glass of water. I doubt I even smiled.
I didn’t receive those two men as guests in my home. I didn’t receive them, like Benedict advised, as Christ. In fact, I didn’t really receive them at all.
Hospitality isn’t as difficult as I’ve always made it out to be. It doesn’t necessarily involve scrubbing or sweeping or cooking. It doesn’t require holiday-themed hand towels or Pier I napkin rings.
True hospitality is much simpler than that. It is the act of receiving a person, even a stranger, as Christ.
Benedict taught me that I do indeed have the gift of hospitality. Two strangers at my door reminded me of how often I fail to use it.