Hospitality and Strangers | Part 1

by Elouise

This past week I’ve written posts, read books, visited bloggers and watched events here at home and overseas.  Only a few focused on hospitality, much less hospitality to and from strangers.  Yet I couldn’t get this theme out of my mind.  So I’m going to try writing it out.

A few things about hospitality and me
I am NOT the hostess with the ‘mostest.’  I never have been and never will be (if you haven’t guessed by now).  I realize I could be wrong, but I believe I’m at least 99 percent right.

You could not force me to be my worst or even best caricature of women who throw great parties.  I know gifted women and men who do.  I count on them doing it right because I likely never will.

The hospitality I’m talking about is different.  It’s the kind that women and men in 12-step programs offered me when I was down and out—spiritually and emotionally, if not in other ways, too.  In fact, most were total strangers.  Or people I thought I would never meet in my social and work worlds.

They didn’t do anything spectacular.  In fact, sometimes they annoyed me.  Or scared me.  I didn’t want to be seen with them.  I didn’t understand them.  I jumped to conclusions about them and sometimes avoided them.  I felt all thumbs when I was around them.  They gave me a headache.  I just wanted to be somewhere else.

But there I was.  Needy.  And, without getting all sentimental about it, they “took me in.”  They offered me a cup of cold water.  A seat next to them in the circle.  Conversation.  Smiles.  Nods of understanding.  Well, most of the time.

Every now and then one of ‘them’ was afraid of me.  Fancy that!  Shrinking violet me.  Why would anyone even notice me, much less be afraid of me?  I’m not threatening.  Indeed.  I had much to learn about myself and strangers.

Hospitality to and from strangers
This intention lies at the heart of my spiritual practices.  Not because someone taught it to me as a spiritual practice, but because I desperately needed it.  Hospitality.  It found me, I didn’t find it.  It found me the way this theme found me in seemingly unrelated activities and events of the past week.

Here are the sources I remember from this past week.  I’m certain there were more.

  • Thinking about my Dear Dad and Dear Mom letters
  • Reading posts by bloggers writing about their wartime experiences
  • Reading a book by Henri J. M. Nouwen called Reaching Out
  • Listening to news reports and reading articles about the anniversary of Auschwitz
  • Hearing and reading about what’s happening today in the USA and other countries
  • Observing the habits of my heart and life

I started paying attention to the meaning of hospitality to strangers when I was teaching in seminary.  It was sometimes difficult for our unusually diverse community to sit down around the same table.   Especially when it came to matters of gender, race, ethnicity and social status.

In fact, some couldn’t look up in the hallways and say “Hi!  How’s it going today?”  I was one of them.  I was full of fear and ignorance.  I was also busy.  With important places to go and classes to teach and papers to grade.  In a nutshell:  I was lost in my own small world.

During this same time period, I also discovered how freeing it was to sit down around the same table with women and men struggling with survival issues, addictions or abusive situations.  Most were strangers.  I never knew their full names, where most of them lived or worked, or even what kind of people they were outside our meeting rooms.

Yet over time I warmed to them and became hungry to spend time with them.  I also learned to take my own first baby-steps of hospitality—both receiving and giving it to strangers.  But I had to give up some things first.

To be continued….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 January 2015