Radical Christian Hospitality

I recently joined a Sydney Christian college’s student ‘Soul Week’ which had the theme ‘Radical Hospitality’. The range of lectures and workshops was impressive and included:

Spiritual hospitality practice stories from the Old Testament

Anthony talked about hospitality as a spiritual discipline, drawing contemporary lessons from two stories of the old testament: the three visitors to Abraham and the two visitors to Lot. The lessons included: cultural expectations of hospitality, the cost of both giving and receiving hospitality and patterns of behaviour in accepting hospitality.

The characters in the stories highlighted how a host can act as a servant to visitors who should all be treated as important. When we see hospitality as interaction this leads us to ask questions about our own hospitality practice, such as:

  • Who do we honour in our personal and business spaces?
  • What does it mean to “do mission” via our hospitality?
  • How generous are we in our inclusion of others in our spaces?
  • Who may feel shame at being excluded from our hospitality?

A final, thought-provoking comment was that people do not always want hospitality foisted upon them because it may create an unwanted reciprocity they don’t want to have to meet.

Naming our narrative warp and weave threads when weaving a hospitality story

Dr Alex Neilson, a Christian spiritual mentor, took the metaphor of the tapestry as a woven, unravelling, changing set of threads in our lives. Storytelling is important in our lives. We tell stories about ourselves and this forms part of our identity construction, but there are dangers, for example, when we tell stories about ourselves that we think others want to hear. These stories can be a defence of ourselves.  He asked us if we ever thought about what story God wants us to tell him about ourselves.

The tapestry as a metaphor of story weaving about our selves helps us to think about both the process (weaving the warp and the weft) and the product (the tapestry produced).  The pattern of the tapestry is also important as it is designed from the threads being woven and gives us language to explain how we feel (“I think there’s a little thread in me that’s off colour’). When we apply the tapestry metaphor to characters in the Bible we can identify where their lives become ‘unravelled’.

For most people, the pattern of the tapestry is not known for many years when, at some point, we look back and see the pattern that has emerged from a million actions over time.  We see how our past life, the historical and geographical context in which we lived, influences the weaving process and the resulting pattern of the tapestry of our lives.  It is useful to consider this regularly.  Have I been faithful to God, to others, to myself in my patterning over time? How much control did we have over the stories people told about us which influenced our patterning? To what extent did patriarchy and hierarchy have an influence on our pattern? Are there some threads we can see having a major impact on our lives over time?

We did an exercise in thinking/playing and asked ourselves these questions:

  • Identify the threads in my tapestry (e.g. leisure; celebration; music; play; wellness; spiritual meaning in life; prayer; grace given and received)
  • Are there any threads in my life tapestry that I would have wished to have changed? do they still exist? What possibilities are these for unravelling/changing those threads in my life tapestry?
  •  Which threads are life-giving for me in my life?

Food for thought!  There were other sessions and I will add to them soon. These included:

Eco-faith as a Christian philosophical orientation

Hospitality in Christian monasticism

Iconography as a spiritual practice

Visio Divina, the gaze in contemplative photography

The hospitality of the liturgy.

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