Wednesday, 8 June 2011

messy hospitality

Taking risks in extending hospitality is not something I often do. I play it safe: only invite close friends or family, and only when the house has been sufficiently tidied. So it doesn't usually amount to all that much hosting. I make excuses for not being more hospitable: our place is too small, we're too busy this week, cooking for a crowd stresses me out, we might act too hyper and misbehave (I can be quite unruly at times), and our house is too messy.

Which makes me think about the messiness of hospitality. Because things will never be perfect in our house - we live here, after all, 4 of us messies. And there will never be a perfect food or time or even house. We'd get a bigger house and still I'd make excuses. I need to just do it.

It can be messy to invite people in - you don't know what to expect. Questions swirl in my mind: will they like this food? Will the food turn out? Will there be enough? What will we talk about? Will they have a good time?

But I want to be open to this. To take risks in extending hospitality amidst the messiness of life. To welcome a stranger and to see what gifts could come from our encounter. To step out of what's comfortable. To reshape my priorities. To open my heart and home to someone else. To potentially host an angel.

"Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:1-2

Hospitality can be hard work, but I receive so many gifts in return. It can be deeply satisfying, filled with memories that stay with me long after the meal is tidied up.

"Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren't afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share. A community which refuses to welcome - whether through fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it is fed up with visitors - is dying spiritually." Jean Vanier

I have been humbled and abundantly blessed by the hospitality of those who have much less than me. Some of my most memorable experiences as a guest were in tiny, poor, or messy places. Or when the people were more important than the food that was served. Where relationships were treasured - regardless of whether the food or home could appear in Martha Stewart's magazine. 

The following is a journal entry that I wrote after visiting a mountain village on the island of Java in Indonesia years ago.

Today I had a lot to learn from the hospitality of the people in Indonesia. We visited a village high in the mountains, climbing worn steps until we saw the tops of the small buildings. We heard the loudspeaker from the mosque announce, “Come and meet our guests!”

Everyone in the village came to greet us - women, men, babies, children, youth. Their routine days stopped in order to accommodate our presence.

They welcomed us into a home. The people were very attentive and made us feel like honoured guests. Our hosts loaded the tables until there was no more room. Plates and bowls filled to the brim. Glasses of sweet palm juice. Piles of small bananas and rambutans and leechee fruits, juicy and sweet like candy as they rolled around in my mouth. Mounds of crispy chips, jiggly emerald puddings, and dried fruit dripping with sugary golden syrup. 

We asked them questions about their village, and they asked us questions about our countries. They told us that their lives were good - that everyone in the village had enough to eat and a house to live in. Then one man asked us, “How did your countries get so rich?” and then “What can we do to get rich like you?”

Those questions have stayed with me. I wanted to tell him that our countries need to learn to be more like his village - to be happy with “enough”, and to not always yearn for bigger and better. But who was I to tell him that? I was a rich person in his eyes. How can a rich person tell someone who is poor not to wish for wealth?


  1. Rebecca I'm continually amazed with you blog - if I was able to come up with one entry/week I would be happy. And I literally could comment on every entry so I'll just default and choose the latest because I don't have enough time (I wish I did) to comment on all of them.

    Your wish for more hosting/hospitality really resonates with me. It's a struggle at times to even host friends (unfortunately). I will take the bulk of the blame for it but I'm also going to blame the USA. Being a newly minted American/Canadian dual citizen I can now more freely criticize the red, white and blue. (Actually, that's how I justify it - I already had the red and white so all I really did was add a little blue). Without any supporting evidence I feel the culture of "me" is the defining mantra here ("me" being my immediate family). But of course that's not an excuse, it's my problem. Especially when I think about the second half of your entry and think back to times when I have been on the receiving end of hospitality by strangers or near strangers (poor or wealthy). It's an absolutely marvelous feeling that has made for the most memorable memories.

    How do we leave the excuses behind and just do it?
    Pete Byer

  2. I love how you blame a country, Pete. But you're right - it's this mentality/mantra of "me, me, me" that makes me more inward looking at times (and my pre-occupation with what will people think of me and my messy house) - instead of looking outward at others. I have so many little ideas that I never follow through on - easy things that wouldn't be like hosting a 7 course meal or anything. Maybe I just need a goal (I like goals) to get started - xx number of hostings per month, or something like that.

  3. Now that we've all seen pictures of your "messy house"', that excuse no longer works! My Mom would always say before coming over for a visit "We are there to visit you, not the house." I bet your friends and family think the same way. (This is coming from someone who spends the better part of 2 days cleaning before friends come over!)

  4. So true. I'll have to stroke that excuse off the list. And your mom speaks wisdom. Definitely - it's about the people, not the place.

  5. I feel much more at home when I go to someone's home and things aren't perfect. I feel like they trust me and I am part of an inner circle.

    I remember being in Palestine and experiencing the same kind of hospitality that you were talking about. What a humbling and eye opening experience that sticks with me.

    I'm much more chicken about hosting strangers, or people I don't know well. Good thing to think of..........

  6. I agree, Rachel - with the inner circle part. Maybe we can help each other with our chickenness. :)