“Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.” Henri Nouwen
I cried when I first read this quote 5 years ago. I didn’t know it then, but I was stuck. Stuck with misguided narratives of who God was and what being a Christ follower looked like. And it was sucking the joy and life out of me. The tears were telling. A release of fear, a hope that maybe, just maybe I was welcomed and good.
What Nouwen suggests was the very opposite focus of some faith communities I had been part of with subtle, boxed in undertones of: Our way is the only way. We will invite you in only if you change to become more like us. A spirituality afraid to honor quiet spaces, mystery, discovery.
This quote was suggesting that God is good with the time and space it takes for humans to explore and notice. And there is room in His world to leave old ways of being and doing, to follow true soul longing, to sing and dance with individual expression ….and it seemed too good to be true.
Where had this God been all my life?
Friend. Spacious. Sweet tempered. Unforced.
Jesus embodied hospitality. Because Jesus never forced himself on people. He only offered compelling invitations that blessed. And if people said “NO”, He was un-offended and still happy to be with them. His ego was not attached to whether people came to his teachings and church services (Mark 10:21, John 6:64). He gave space, time, the gift of free will, with no shame. And He offers the same invitation to you today.
I invite you to read this quote prayerfully several times. How do you feel the welcome of God? Or maybe there is a hurt to heal. How is God inviting you to discover a language, a dance, a song of your own?