The Cry Vol 16 No 1 . 1

Reserved: A simple, open space

Although many, we might even say most, strangers in this world become easily the victim of a fearful hostility, it is possible for men and women and obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings.1

Our guest room — the one beyond the kitchen, with a curtain for a door — has had its sheets changed, air mattress inflated and deflated, towels washed and floor swept numerous times in recent days. Our little house on 31st Avenue has welcomed at least 10 overnight visitors in the past several months. A wedding, board meeting and the holiday seasons brought our friends, friends of friends and family members into our lives momentarily as we moved along in our daily pattern, giving us many opportunities to practice hospitality.

In the past weeks, the connection between simplicity and hospitality has been clarified in my mind. Simplicity is not always quantifiable in the exterior world of wealth and possessions; nor is it easy to measure in the interior world. There are also teetering piles of boxes and dusty knickknacks that clutter interior spaces: discontent, self-hate, an overextended calendar, etc. Of course, the interior and exterior, the body and the spirit, are deeply intertwined. Stuff can dictate the course of a life, or, in an attempt to meet inner needs, material items can be shoved into misshapen gaps. In all that complication, inner and outer, it is easy to lose the ability to relate to others in open and honest ways.

Last January, WMF Omaha’s Advocacy Team identified hospitality and invitation as our important themes for 2009. At that point, we were just about to launch our visual redesign and anticipated welcoming people to interact with us through a much more accessible website and social networking avenues. As we brainstormed and looked ahead to the coming year, we realized all the opportunities we have for hospitality as a department: Several times a year, staff and board members visit Omaha for meetings and orientation. Each month we welcome guests to our advocacy meeting, Beggars Society. I was especially struck by my role as Short Term Programs Director in inviting and welcoming people to join our organization through our intern application and preparation process. I enjoy the occasions when our community comes together to offer hospitality, but it’s important to note that event after event can exhaust us if we are not mindful of the state of the interior lives we invite our friends to join.

I have learned that I sometimes wear myself down in the name of false hospitality. When making a good impression on guests motivates my gestures, the effort becomes self-centered and frantic. The energy of that negative stress is sometimes palpable. I hope to create a space in my home, my office and my heart where friends and strangers are welcome to be my “fellow human beings.” The birth of that sacred space has much less to do with the clean sheets, and much more to do with the state of my heart, and it certainly does not require the sacrifice of my own sanity. In fact, the creation and offering of that life-giving space demands that I am able to find the breath of God in my own life. My effort is to keep a simple and open space in my heart reserved for the stranger or unexpected guest.

ENDNOTES

1 Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out (London: Fount, 1980), p. 43.

 

marcia1crop
Photo: Jara Sturdivant-Wilson

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