Hospitality: Space, Presence, and Entertaining Angels

by | Jul 4, 2016 | 5 Merciful

coffee_and_chokolate (2)

Hospitality: Coffee and chocolate are better with a little cream and a lot of listening.


Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Everyone needs space and presence.
By space, I mean room to be yourself.  That can mean literal, three-dimensional space like your room, house, cell, or sanctuary. But it often means much more, like the emotional space of mutual respect or the mental space of patient silence while you try to find the right words to say.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Love…consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.”[1]

By presence, I mean contact with another who honors your solitude without abandoning you and who listens when the time comes.  The present one wants contact whether or not you say or accomplish anything.  You know another’s presence when you have faith in their desire to be with you.
Hospitality means much more than providing goods and services like meals, plumbing repairs, or even a hotel room. Rather, hospitality means giving another person space and presence.  When you offer space and presence along with goods and services, you give hospitality.  Without space and presence, it’s just a business arrangement, a cold, square deal.
In antiquity, decent people offered hospitality to travelers.  This supported a world of mutual care from which they might have benefited on a previous trip and might again next time.  They paid it forward.
Ancient Israel added a deeper reason: Gratitude to the one God who liberated them from slavery.  “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).”
Great stories of hospitality fill scripture.  For example, aged Abraham and Sarah provided a meal to three strangers. The strangers announced they would have a son, prompting Sarah to snort a laugh. But it turned out those strangers were angels, and nine months later she named the boy Laughter (Hebrew, Isaac; Genesis 18:1-8). Generations later, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2 RSV).
If gratitude motivates holy hospitality, humility guides it.  When journeying through pagan country during a drought, Elijah requested a morsel of bread from a widow. With her cupboard down to ingredients for one biscuit, he caught her planning her last meal.  But putting him first, she fed him anyway, and God blessed her with enough leftovers to pack the pantry (I Kings 17:8-16).  In keeping with that story, Jesus fed thousands with a few loaves and fish and leftovers for the road.
Hospitality begins with listening. As a piano accompanist, my wife, Wanda, achieves excellence not only from her musical skills but from listening deeply to the heart of the singer. The salespeople to whom I return listen for what I need to buy, not what they want to sell. Parents who listen nourish young souls best.
Those who listen hospitably and expecting nothing get much in return. Christ “protects and borders and meets them” in their listening ministry. You’ve probably been there. If you cannot remember, just listen.
[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

, Stephen Mitchell, tr. New York: Vintage, 1984, 78.

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