I just got back from my grad school intensive last week in Durham, NC. What a trip! People who have done my program often say that Durham is the best out of the four intensives. It was phenomenal. The class we focused on together is called, Hospitality as Leadership, led by a kick ass female head of the Bible department (first in the churches of Christ…Naomi, you’re a bad ass).
If you’ve spent any time in the Bible, particularly the Jesus stuff, you’ll know that hospitality was something Jesus got in trouble for a lot. Not the hospitality industry where everything is fancy and requires payment, but old school hospitality where whores were washing his feet and terrorists were sharing meals with the religious folk (much to their horror). Jesus was the type of guy who broke a lot of rules. He hung out with people he wasn’t supposed to and he shared food with them, which in the Jewish faith was a major no-no. And while I like rule-breaking to a level I never admired when I was younger, I don’t think this was just because Jesus liked to theologically rumble from time to time (though I think he did) but because he really thought people were more important than laws and rules. He made space for people who society had said didn’t deserve space (uh oh, how can you not think of our border crisis now?!?!) I even think that he didn’t welcome those who weren’t “worthy” by society’s standards in spite of their station socially but because of their status. Having lived a life of a “lower” person, perhaps their perspective was important, irreplaceable, needed in the religious world? When everyone has a seat at the table, the conversation changes.
Part of what we do in the program is develop personal rhythms to sustain us in our spiritual practices and studies. It’s not about learning all the things with books but about experimenting and being open to new ideas and ways of life. But reading all the books and writing all the papers along with trying to make space for those we’ve been told don’t matter requires A LOT of self-care. Hence, the rhythms. It includes intentionality around prayer, hospitality, attentiveness, and simplicity. We write them ourselves so it’s really just a way to create something for us (we have a spiritual formation director who supports us in this…shout out to Natalie). And I am being more intentional with my hosting and being hosted within my family.
And so I had this moment with my oldest this morning…this daughter who I keep thinking won’t need me as much now that she’s in middle school. And yet, this kid shouts good-bye to me in front of all the cool kids at the bus stop and wants me there waiting for her (two blocks from our house) every day after school. She is giving me opportunities to host her and to be hosted by her. I’ve heard this in the context of marriage being described as “love bids.” Partners, and all loved ones, give us opportunities all the time to lean in or to lean out of the relationship. And while part of me thinks “can’t she just walk two blocks alone, I already took my bra off?!?!”, what this class is reminding me is that my daughter wants to host me in her day. The question is, can I make space for her while I host myself? I have a body and my own emotional needs and an incredibly demanding schedule. Those things are involved in just being me in my life right now. I need to make space for me in the midst of my life and that requires a lot of care and balance with my time and energy. Can I also make space, in these little ways, to say yes to hosting and being hosted by my child? And can I see those opportunities for connection as not just part of my motherly duty (does that ever really end?) but as even a way to bring blessings to me? This is not a one way street.
A lot of ideas around hospitality now are about helping guests feel comfortable. And that is really important. But have you ever played the role of host for the evening and at the end of the day, felt refreshed by the company? Have you felt loved and heard even as you poured coffee and served food? We think that hospitality is a top-down, one-direction dynamic. But, if we’re honest and also open, hospitality can be a circle. We can give and receive throughout the evening and the entire relationship. When I was in ministry, I positioned myself as giver and rarely as receiver. What an exhausting and prideful way to live! And how much did I miss out on when I postured myself that way?
I just wrote about seeing myself as a colander creating space for people to share things. That idea is in line with hospitality. It’s not about a physical space (Jesus was not a home owner). It’s about connection. It’s about eye contact. It’s about paying attention. Maybe it’s actually a gift from God to me that my oldest is open and honest about her need for me. And maybe that’s not another thing on my list but the exact thing I need to remind myself that my priority is love, no matter how easy it is to get caught up in everything else.