I’ve spent a lot of time washing dishes, and thinking about hospitality the past few weeks. Last weekend I was out of town on a church retreat (hence the lack of post, sorry). The theme of the retreat was Radical Hospitality. While we were there we were also doing all kinds of other retreat like things; like cooking, and cleaning up after 50 people for three meals a day. We had groups who rotated which chores they were supposed to do each meal, but I kept finding myself gravitating toward the kitchen. After all, I do like to cook and eat. But I began to wonder, as we sat around and discussed the notion of hospitality being something beyond porches and sweet tea, what my real motivation for volunteering to help was. Did I want to be helpful to those who were already working, or did I want to escape the social pressure lurking in the living room? Our focus was on trying to open ourselves up to receive others just as they are. Was I opening up, or closing myself off? I began to feel like a bit of a hypocrite. Was washing dishes hospitable or just hiding? Then my group’s turn to clean up came.
We had all jinxed ourselves by saying we didn’t mind washing dishes. There was a never-ending mountain waiting for us when we arrived in the kitchen. But as we washed and talked, and people wandered in and out, I began to see the importance of what we were doing. Washing the dishes mattered not because they would otherwise be dirty, but because they were part of making a place for others. We were allowing for people to come here and escape their regular lives for a few days, to be surrounded by friends and the beauty of nature. Besides that, the longer we stood in the kitchen, washing and drying, the more people came in to get food, bake cookies, try to help out, make a mess, and just talk. Doing a job didn’t mean I had to be closed off to people. By the end I was wet and tired, but I felt better. I had finally been able to reconcile the two seemingly conflicting models of hospitality that had been talked about over the weekend. The physical work of preparing a place for others is not meant to take the place of, or compete with, the work that must be done to prepare a place in our hearts for others, but rather is meant to work in conjunction with it. It is remembering that “here, I can wash that, don’t worry” is really just another way to say “I love you and I am here for you”.
Now, back in the grind of schoolwork and reality, I am trying to remember to take this lesson to heart. Everyday life offers plenty of opportunities to be hospitable and polite in the old-fashioned, Southern way, but I want to challenge myself to take it one step farther. To really mean it when I say “you have a good day”, or smile at whoever I open a door for. From now on I am going to try to offer hospitality from my heart, not just my hands.