29 June 2012
An attitude of hospitality
The London Olympics is allegedly becoming the biggest media and broadcasting event in history. This week, the city opened its doors to around 28,000 commentators, anchors, reporters, technicians, make-up artists, and camera and sound operators from 190 countries. This is almost three times more than the number of athletes.
Whereas at previous Games reporters who could not afford rooms have camped beneath their desks, London aims for this to be the first Olympic press centre that doesn't have journalists sleeping on the floor. With London accommodation prices soaring to an all-time high, members of St Brides Church on Fleet Street are offering free accommodation to journalists from the world's poorest countries such as Togo, Croatia and Romania. Hospitality as a neighbourly response.
St Brides stands in a long tradition of Christian hospitality. The Bible suggests that those who have much are obligated to share. In Acts we are told the community of believers shared with those in need (Acts 4:33-34). Rather than placing a full stop between the two verses, the Greek word 'gar' indicates a causal relationship: "Great grace was upon them all, for there was not a needy person among them." Gaius, to whom John wrote his third letter, lived out his faith by welcoming and caring for travelling teachers. The nature of monastic hospitality is found in the Rule of St Benedict: "Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, 'I came as a guest, and you received me' (Matthew 25:35)."
In his book Walking With the Poor; Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, Bryant Myers addresses the issue of encountering people of different cultures, nationalities, and different faiths. "We need to do our work and live our lives in a way that calls attention to the new Spirit that lives within us. We need to relate to people . . . in ways that create a sense of wonder. We must seek a spirituality that makes our lives eloquent."
Henri Nouwen not merely lived such an eloquent life, he also formulated his thoughts on 'hospitality' brilliantly: "Hospitality is the virtue which allows us to break though the narrowness of our own fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveller. Hospitality makes anxious disciples into powerful witnesses, makes suspicious owners into generous givers, and makes closed-minded sectarians into interested recipients of new ideas and insights."
In his book The Wounded Healer, Nouwen describes that letting others enter into the space created for them, we allow for their presence to be inviting and liberating.
The character formation as Christ's disciples involves the nurturing of an attitude of hospitality. It concerns our home and our heart. Hospitality is a virtue that shapes not merely our homes and communities but also our institutions, the way we do our work.
As in the early Church, a community of Christ followers who live according to new values proves to be a powerful display of the Spirit's liberating and restorative presence. The inclusion and sharing itself become the message. Eloquent lives for sure.