Bill and I recently returned from Kiawah Island where rest, rich friendships and God’s beauty restored me at a deep soul level. On our last day, a perfect golden-light afternoon in mid October, I sat on the beach alone trying to find a way to doggy-bag that delicious moment to take home. I started writing.
Today I wanted to be a painter as I watched the interplay of light, sand, water, wispy clouds and scuttling sandpipers reflected in the low tide. How do I capture the sweetness of the chunky-thighed one-year-old sinking her toes and fingers in the wet sand, bottom in the air, a beginning yogi in down-dog position?
No. Only a dancer can grab hold of this scene. The movement of waves, wind, wings and the sticky-footed tango of bonneted baby and hands-held-out mom leaning toward but holding back from steadying her wobbling child.
No. I must be a musician, syncing the beat of the rhythmic wave crashes to the cawing of seagulls, shrieking giggles of toddlers, and background static of wind and radio songs.
But I am a writer. My words can’t transport me or others back to this soul-filling still life in any five-senses way.
I realized it isn’t the image, sound, smell, taste or feel I desire to replicate. I want to hit the repeat button to return to this mystical Brigadoon scene when I'm back in the gray, mundane “real” world. Replay the moments when I take a deep breath, slow down and see, let my guard down and relax. Revisit those places where I have a hint of what will be forever mine. To relive those rare times that restore my soul, refresh my perspective and reconnect me to beauty.
If painting, dance, music or writing can’t capture the experience we long to repeat, is there any art form that can?
The “art” of hospitality comes closest.
Hospitality is the most unseen but foundational of the arts, creating a place and space for the isolated to feel welcomed, safe, valued. It is the art of encouraging those in overdrive to slow down to see, taste, smell, touch, hear, laugh, reconnect and relish beauty and relationships. It is the art of giving rest to the heavy laden from the dry and weary land they inhabit.
But as soon as someone mentions the word “hospitality,” caution lights begin flashing. So, the discussion starts with what hospitality isn’t.
True hospitality isn't Pinterest-perfect entertainment or a strategic evangelistic technique.
Hospitality isn't an “event” that leaves people envious, obligated or impressed, or leaves the host exhausted, embarrassed or resentful. It’s not the pressure of rotating one-upping dinner parties or being the designated house for bridal and baby showers (although there is a need for them and they can be done hospitably). It's an attitude and lifestyle not a party.
What is hospitality?
English is a frustrating language that has no perfect word for hospitality or those who give it. The German word, Gemuetlichkeit, comes close with the image of people gathered around a fire laughing, partaking and talking. It’s the “created” atmosphere that allows people to experience warmth, belonging, peace, rest and renewal.
Hospitality is a gift, calling and command.
In the New Testament, Paul exhorts us to contribute to the needs of the saints and show hospitality. Peter assumes believers will be hospitable and directs their attitudes on how to be hospitable. (That’s right, they grumbled in the first century as well.)
Hospitality is more often simple than elaborate.
In fact, when done well, it is invisible. People don’t know why, they just feel at home.
It is simple, but not easy.
It is sacrificial in the way all spiritual gifts are. What comes to mind is the last scene of Babette’s Feast, a Danish film about an exiled French chef. Her amazing meal has enriched and reconciled a dying community but has taken all her resources. The spinster Martina mourns for her saying, “But now you’ll be poor forever!”
Babette’s response? “An artist is never poor.”
That is the nature of the art of hospitality. Artists pour out without reserve, trusting the ongoing life-giving fountain of God-given creativity will continue to flow through them.
Hospitality is mutual.
Although the motivation of hospitality is to provide people with a loving place and space, the supernatural surprise is those we seek to bless often bless us back. The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hospitality recognizes that many people are strangers in a strange land and can battle feelings of isolation even in the midst of people they’ve lived with for years.
Hospitality is a moment of rest and revitalization.
In Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen writes, “Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place . . . . it is not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”
How does hospitality fit in the church?
Our pastor paints an image of the church as an aircraft carrier, sending its people out in spiritual battle in a fallen world and coming back to be refueled and relaunched. Hospitality projects a different picture, the church as a welcoming home. Through hospitality, the people we are fighting for have a place where they are invited in and given a room. Hospitality, at its best, shows what love looks like to those longing for a true home.
The Lord of the Rings holds these contrasting images of warfare and home together. The church is a fellowship battling together for the “good” that is in the world. But the church is also the elfin city of Rivendell. In the words of J. R. R. Tolkien, this is what hospitality can accomplish:
“. . .the place where visions can be born, where fragile dreams can become reality, where battle plans can be laid for great battles ahead, and faith renewed in ultimate inevitable success . . . . such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.”
Can you remember a moment when you’ve received the gift of true hospitality? How did it make you feel?
As I think back to that moment on the beach I wanted to relive and give to others, I realize I am a painter with the canvas of a comfortable home. I dance lightly in the background to pull people in and help them relax. My home gives off the beautiful music of laughter, conversation and even shared dishwashing. Each guest writes his own story in those moments.
As we experience these fleeting moments together, we look forward to the never-ending moments when we will be truly home.
At InSpero Creative Community, we’ve started a “Babette’s Group” of artists of hospitality where we recognize, value and encourage this true art and gift which sets the table where creative community can flourish and beauty can be nurtured. For more information, go to InSpero or leave a comment below . I'd love to hear how hospitality has impacted you or if it's the first time you've thought you, too, may be an artist.