All that education may have gone to Christian women’s heads—and a good thing, too, but sometimes the lore that usually got passed along, as far as hospitality goes, has not gone to the kitchen. Many, who received their college degrees, their postgraduate degrees and their PhD’s, never learned how to get a company meal from the store to the table. Consequently, one of the great socializing tools of all time—inviting people into our home for an event that is not rushed, that allows us to savor good food and good conversation—is in danger of extinction!
Throughout the years of my life, I picked up training as a focus-group moderator and because hospitality is an important tool to me and because I think it is an essential (repeat, essential) spiritual practice, Mainstay Ministries ran about 16 focus groups attempting to determine why this was a languishing, if not dying, art in our country, in most regions, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, and in our families.
Here are the reasons, and most of our groups were composed of Christian women:
- Too busy. (This is the most frequently given excuse.)
- I don’t have enough energy.
- It’s expensive.
- I don’t know how to ___________ (set a table, prepare a company meal, make conversation, etc).
- I don’t know whom to invite.
- My house is too messy.
- It’s too much work!
- My mother was always uptight before company, and that gave me a bad taste for entertaining.
- With work (or school, single-parenting, etc.), I simply can’t manage any more.
- People just don’t invite folks over; I don’t even know my neighbors.
- I’d love to extend hospitality, but my spouse (or housemate or roommate) thinks a home should be a refuge from people.
- We don’t have enough room (or the right dishes, enough place settings, decent furniture, etc).
All good excuses, to be sure, but tragic in that one of the greatest cures for the human pandemic of spiritual homesickness—inviting people into our homes—is not being applied. Nothing helps us to get to know another human better than being welcomed into a home, sitting down at the table, eating well-prepared food, and sharing the laughter, stories, good ideas and learning that comes from unhurried conversation. Believe me, texting is not a substitute.
Perhaps without knowing it, we are all longing for a place at the table, for a home where we are safe and wanted. Jean Fleming writes of this beautifully in her book The Homesick Heart: “That I am homesick for a home I’ve never seen would be preposterous if I had no glimpse, no foretaste, of that home. The home I seek is not here, yet in the hearth fire and the freshly made bed I feel pangs of homesickness for a home beyond my experience. I can’t describe this home, but the seeds of recognition are planted within me.”
Perhaps one of the most exquisite portrayals of spiritual homesickness being assuaged is in the film Babette’s Feast. Here a shriveled and wizened little remnant of religious followers, turning critical and legalistic and aging ungracefully, are fed a celebration meal prepared by a master chef. No cost has been spared. The dishes and the graciousness are lavish. An outsider comes as guest to the table and he interprets—the names of the dishes, the wonders of the wine, the renown of the cook. Magic—or perhaps one might call it a miracle—happens. The old people are warmed in their creaking bodies. They lean across the table in love toward one another. They actually enjoy the beautifully-prepared food. Laughter curls around the elegant table settings. They leave the evening light-hearted, stepping brightly onto the cold stone pavements on this winter’s evening. Their arthritis and rheumatisms are forgotten. In the glimmering moonlight, they join hands and dance around the town well. It is a lovely picture, this cinematic preamble to homesickness with all its displacements assuaged.
“Like Adam we have all lost Paradise: and yet we carry around inside us in the form of a longing for, almost a memory of, a blessedness that is no more, or the dream of a blessedness that may someday be again.” —Frederich Buechner in The Magnificent Defeat
A tiny touch of Paradise visits each hospitable occasion in any home, wealthy or poor, where welcome is extended. I have known it over and over—our yearning for a home that is beyond this physical existence is satisfied for brief and shining moments. And whereas my guests often leave warmed, well-fed, happy, and with lighter hearts and tapping feet, it is I, the hostess, who is most blessed. Why don’t we do this more? I always ask whenever a guest leaves my door. It is wonderful to be connected in a way that is beyond the ordinary discussion groups, task forces, and study circles.
The excuses above are good excuses. But not good enough. They are the same as saying, “I’m too busy” or “It’s too much work” or “I don’t know how” to reach out and receive a check for $10,000. The practice of hospitality is so bountiful in its gifts, so filled with reminders of what Paradise was and what it will be, that we don’t dare let it grow rusty. Poverty—social poverty, inter-relational poverty—are always the results of a closed door and rusted hinges.
Invite a friend to dinner in your home. Invite several friends. See if something paradisal doesn’t happen. See if your spiritual homesickness isn’t assuaged.
Other projects involving Karen right now are: Working with teams of Christian women to design Retreats of Silence, in both 24-hours and three-days formats, through the aegis of Hungry Souls. Developing hospitality initiatives that train Christian men and women how to use their own homes in caring outreaches through the Open Heart, Open Home ministries. Launching the Global Bag Project, a worldwide effort that markets sustainable cloth shopping bags to provide sustainable incomes for bag-makers in developing nations. Researching the impact of listening groups while overseeing some 240 small groups over the last three years. Experimenting with teleconference mentoring for Wannabe (Better) Writers. Designing the Tales of the Kingdom Web site.