Wednesday, November 21, 2012

From Christian Peacemaker Teams' "Prayers for Peacemakers" - November 21, 2012
God, be a pillar of nonviolent defense against occupation, apartheid, domination, theft, bombardment, phosphorus chemical weapons, missiles, drones, assassination of journalists, propaganda, home demolition, sexism, racism and despair. Let offenses yield to nationhood, dignity and zealous compliance with the Geneva Conventions in Gaza and everywhere.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


I think I've blogged about hospitality before, but the idea came up again recently in a specific way, which I've often thought about but maybe not often articulated: That is, the kind of hospitality that is not reciprocated; it perhaps is not even possible to be reciprocated. I believe this is the kind of hospitality Jesus teaches, saying things like "When you throw a party, don't invite your friends, but invite people who would never be able to throw a party and invite you in return." When I consider my own life in light of this, it challenges me. How much true hospitality do I show, without expecting some kind of return? Sometimes I might do things for others simply out of a generous spirit, but the fact remains that they are able in some way to reciprocate. But how often do I give to those who are not able to do anything at all for me?
Another challenge: How often do I receive such hospitality?
In one of my pastoral counseling classes, a classmate leading a centering exercise instructed us to think of a positive, peaceful memory - a memory of a time we sensed God's presence. Into my mind flashed a picture: A small lake in the middle of a forest, a wooden dock, and me. I remembered with pleasure a time when I dipped my hands into the water of that lake, and some little fish came up to nibble on my skin. More memories of that dear place came to mind, and I was filled with gratitude for the hospitality shown to my family and me when I was a child, by a distant relative who let us vacation at her lake house for many summers. A few days later I wrote her a thank-you note, and it was a note of pure gratitude. I knew there is nothing I can say or do that will ever repay the gift she had given. For a single mom with three kids and a tiny budget, the gift of a place to stay, rest and recreation, and the enjoyment of nature, all of which were formational in my life... that is true hospitality. And it is humbling to receive.
If I draw a connection, and of course I do, between this kind of hospitality and the grace of God, then it is pretty easy to see that grace is effective in us not only when we receive what we don't deserve and can't repay, but also when we allow ourselves to be moved enough by the needs of others that we share our  resources freely. As Henri Nouwen puts it:
"Hospitality is the virtue which allows us to break through the narrowness of our fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler." 
To be on the receiving end of true hospitality causes me to face the reality of my own needs and confront my own limitations to what I can do for myself or earn from others. It leaves me with a choice to accept and receive, without self-justification or self-condemnation, or to be proud and falsely deny my need and the other's gift.
Likewise, to be open to another's need and to give, with no guarantee of "getting back," requires letting go of a self-reliant security and control, and putting my trust in this very process of giving and receiving - this hospitality without reciprocity, this grace.