14 October, 2013

House Beautiful (Not the Magazine)

"It's like being at home and on a holiday at the same time, if you understand me." - Sam Gamgee, upon arriving in Lothlorien (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

What does the word "hospitality" bring to your mind?  Maybe you think of comfort-food casseroles and church potluck committees, or maybe you recall sterile hotel rooms. Those are all good things, but I can't help but think that the meaning of hospitality is broader than casseroles and more intimate than an industry.  It does include meeting material needs like shelter and nourishment, but also a heart attitude that is ready to listen and ready to play a part in the bigger picture of an individual's sojourn through life.


The impromptu generosity of
newly-made friends, Florence, 2012
I was recently inspired by an example of hospitality in, of all things, an old allegory written by an imprisoned 17th-century English tinker: John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.  Said to be the most widely-read book in history after the Bible, it's the story of a man named Christian who leaves his home to go on pilgrimage to the Celestial City.  After many dangers and a struggle up a difficult hill, Christian happens upon a beautiful stately home called House Beautiful.  It is inhabited by Watchful, Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity who, after learning that he is traveling to the land of the Lord they serve, invite Christian inside and insist that he receive their hospitality.  
Yes, they put a roof over his head, but they also have significant interactions with him that reveal a few key components of holistic hospitality:

Conversation:  They ask him questions about his history, journey, family, struggles, and things that have helped him.
Food:  They sit down to a rich meal together.
Shelter and rest:  They give him a bedroom called Peace.  Upon waking, he marvels, "Where am I now? ...[I] dwell already the next door to heaven!"  I love this exclamation -- it reminds me of times when I've been so ragged in body and soul that just one good night of rest feels like arriving in paradise!
Encouragement and context:  They show him records and trophies of other great saints.  I think this is so important, because they are both acknowledging and reminding him of the fact that he is part of a fellowship of people who have made the same journey.  He has a role in a larger context, and that legacy imparts courage to him.
Generosity:  They urge him to stay an additional day so they can show him a view of the Delectable Mountains and fit him with armor, to further encourage him for the trek ahead.  Knowing what he faces, and knowing they have resources that can help him, they want him to stay even if it encroaches on their normal routine.  (Shortly after leaving the House Beautiful, Christian meets a horrific beast named Apollyon and is able to defeat him because he is equipped with his new sword and armor.)

I've sat at dinner tables in Germany, Sweden, England, and Italy where I was welcomed and fed simply because I had one friend in common with the host, and that was good enough reason for them to make me a friend, too.  No matter the level of material splendor those homes had or didn't have, I look back on each one of them as a House Beautiful that gave me a meal, a pause, a conversation, and another piece of armor for the rest of my journey.  Sometimes I was given advice or encouragement that I didn't even know I needed, but would help me later.

As you look back on the years you've traveled so far, have you encountered such places?  Where have you been enfolded into the lives and love of people you haven't previously known well or at all? Having been the guest in a House Beautiful, how might you provide such a space for other sojourners?  How different could our world -- even just our little corner of it -- look if we brought hospitality home a little more often, having a coffee date or happy hour in our home now and then, rather than only meeting in neutral public spaces?  I love dining out, don't misunderstand!  But I do think that home space holds incredible potential to open up heart space, and I want to try to take greater advantage of that.

1 comment:

CFHeidel said...

Spot on. Excellent!