Sunday, 10 March 2013

Hospitality As An Expression of Love

"Every good relationship between people, whether it is friendship, marriage or community
creates space where strangers can enter and become friends.  All good relationships are hospitable.
When we enter into a home and feel welcomed, we soon realize that it is the love between those who live in that home that makes such a welcome possible.  
However when there is conflict in a home the guest is soon asked to choose sides.  Are you for him or for her?  Do you agree with them or with us?  Do you like him more than me?  These questions prevent true hospitality.  True hospitality is the opportunity for the stranger to feel safe and to discover his or her own gifts.  Hospitality is more than an expression of love for the guest.  First and foremost it is an expression of love between the hosts." - Henri Nouwen

It is sometimes difficult to put a finger on why in certain homes, we feel at ease, at our very best, at our most relaxed and content.  The homes where you are just as welcome to sit quietly with a book in the corner of the couch as you would be if you wanted too talk deeply over a cup of hot tea.  Where you are simply accepted for who and what you are and there is no need for falseness or pretense.  Where you truly may come as you are.  No one is disappointed in you for not meeting their expectations or for not meeting some bizarre measure of who they think you should be.  No one is watching covertly for you to slip up or for words or actions they can later use against you somehow through gossip or other means.  Where there is no judgement or hostility, just the infusing warmth of acceptance and love.  A genuine smile.  Caring words.  The gentle drawing out of your true self.

These homes are not always perfect.  They may be messy or unorganized and the meal may not be planned out to the last detail ahead of time.  But you are still welcome, even if you help to set the table yourself.  Get your own drink from the fridge.  Push magazines off the couch before sitting down.  These homes are where life happens.  And it is that very life than embraces you as a guest.  The way the host and hostess catch each others eye and smile.  A private moment but one you are permitted to enjoy.  Their love.  Their joy in each other.  The way a family can laugh together or talk in that familiar way that lets you know these are topics as old as time in this family.  These things catch you up and say this is our family but you are not separate from us, join in, be a part of our lives, we want you here.

I have been in some homes however where aesthetically speaking, everything is perfect.  The best of everything for the guest.  The finest wine, the richest and most plentiful food.  A genuine abundance. And yet, occasionally, I am still not quite at ease, I still feel as though something is missing,  This is equally difficult to put a finger on.  The slightest crackling of tension in the air.  The idea that all it means to be hospitable is a perfect home and a rich display of food.  A lack of interaction and observable love.  The discourtesy between host and hostess veiled as humor.  The stress of bright falseness.  The awkwardness of discovering that beyond the tangible abundance, you are not truly welcome.  Not deeply cared for. 

Naturally this is not to say that all perfect homes with rich food are cold or that all untidy home are always havens of welcome.  It has been my experience though that the warmth of the people in the homes contributes far more to feeling welcomed than flawless presentation does.  I have been in homes where the love is so tangible you just never want to leave.  Just curl right up and stay there.  Where the soul is refreshed and nourished.  I have also been in homes where the atmosphere is so tense and sterile and I feel like sleeping for a week after visiting because I am so emotionally drained.

Generally I try to be genuinely hospitable.  I want to have a home that is open to others in a profound way, one where others are free to be themselves without pretense.  Where they may relax and leave refreshed somehow.  I think then that as Nouwen so wisely says, the surest way to achieve this is to love those in my home right now.  Laugh with them.  Play with them.  Get to know them better every day.  Share life with them  And then open our door and share it with others.


  1. My grandmother's home was a home of love. Not just for me, but for anyone who entered it. It's funny when there is conflict in a home, you can feel it. It's like there is an uneasy, unspoken aura lingering in the space. And, you can also feel peace in a home just by entering it, like my grandmother's house. Thanks for sharing, Colleen.

    1. Monica that is so beautiful! I think you really hit on what true hospitality means, a home of love for all who enter, not just a select few. Thanks for your comment. Your grandma sounds like a special person.

  2. Can I say that I miss hospitality? When I was a teenager in Iceland we always had people at home. My friends always felt welcome - one even commented that he could show up on Christmas Day and be welcomed! I loved that. Loved being part of that home. But as an adult living in Athens things are just too far away. It takes too long to get to places. Life is too busy. We're too tired. I miss the simplicity of having people over, of then sitting on the floor just hanging out. Laughing. Listening to music. Dancing. Now it's a ceremony. We put on dinner. The best food. The best wine. There is still love and caring. Still laughter. Still this air of hanging out. But it's not as familiar anymore. Not as relaxed. There is other things to get to. A rush to keep going with life.

    Yeah I miss the simplicity of youth. That to me, at that time, was true hospitality. Thanks for sharing Colleen! And let me just say that I loved hanging out with you guys at Christmas!!! It was so much fun, relaxed and just enjoyable! And as always I miss our conversations over a steaming cup of something - love you!

    1. Janet I am sorry for not replying, I actually didn't see this until now. :) I totally understand what you mean and I feel the same. It was so natural when we were younger, no expectations. And we LOVED having you here last Christmas...any time, my friend, our door is always open to you!


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