Kindling the Fire of Hospitality Part 4: Creating Belonging
Hospitality is a practice which envelops others in an atmosphere of warmth and welcome, and which creates belonging.
We started our Hospitality Continuum with Warmth, moved on to Welcome, and now come to the deepest aspect of Hospitality, Creating Belonging.
In Conamara, Ireland, when someone asks a child who he is, the question is not “What is your name?” but rather “To whom do you belong?” Our individual identities never exist in isolation; we belong with others! These are Our People, and together, we approach life in our own unique way. Belonging is essential to our completeness. This is why the pain that comes from loss, loneliness, abandonment, and rejection is some of the worst pain a person can endure.
None of us wants to be the stranger or outsider; in our deepest hearts we want to belong. Thus, the hospitable one who creates Belonging for others brings much healing, and spreads a restorative balm around him/her.
Entertaining is an event, but Hospitality is a practice, a way of life. One of the central ‘practices’ of Hospitality is seeing others through eyes of compassion. Hospitality is conscious of others’ distress and has a desire to alleviate it. In fact, the etymology of the word ‘compassion’ is ‘suffer-with.’ Hospitality notices needs. When we create belonging for others we invite them to enter a place of shelter and safety—with us. We will not leave them alone in their distress.
Every summer for 25 years Joe Samara, a retired real estate investor, has set up a folding chair in the shade at a park in Hartford, Connecticut. He hooks up his clippers to a car battery and begins preening his exclusive clientele: Connecticut’s homeless. He doesn’t do a quick job, either; he uses the best lotions and aftershaves—the works! He takes his time with each one, and afterwards, a hug. He dishes out Belonging, and receives love and respect back. His “customers” have become like family, he says, and he is known as “Joe the Barber—everyone’s grandfather.”
Creating Belonging can also be practiced in small ways, such as in conversation and daily communication:
“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out. Just as they are—chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” ~Dinah Maria Craik
The ability to “sift” in our everyday interactions with others—to keep what is worth keeping and blow the rest away—creates Belonging. It helps those around us sense “we are glad to be with you—no entry application or pre-approval needed.” How often do you feel this way around others? Do you need to carefully measure your words? This gift of “sifting” is a rare gift of hospitality we can give. A gift of Grace.
The hospitable person creates belonging wherever he goes—even in prison:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a seminary professor and pacifist during WWII who was deeply involved in the underground resistance movement in Germany. He helped smuggle Jews into Switzerland, taught underground classes, and eventually was imprisoned by the Nazis for collaboration in a plot to remove Hitler. He was in prison for 18 months. He could have escaped from prison, but chose not to for the sake of others. While in Tegel Prison, Bonhoeffer acted as encourager, counselor, and priest for all denominations. He was courteous and gracious to all, including his guards. Bonhoeffer’s compassion and calm deeply impressed his fellow prisoners, and everyone, even guards, used all kinds of tricks to get near him and find the comfort of exchanging a few words with him.* He was consistently so gracious and courteous to his guards that when they came to escort him to his hanging, they apologized for having to do so. Dietrich Bonhoeffer created Belonging around him, even in prison. He could have been bitter and angry, but chose to see those around him with eyes of compassion—even there.
* Mark and Barbara Galli, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Did You Know?, Christianity Today
Mother Teresa’s Hospitality Created Belonging
Another radical example of how Hospitality creates Belonging is Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, which was established in 1950 and now has locations around the world. The Sisters create homes for the “poorest of the poor, and outcasts of outcasts”—the Unwanted, those who do not belong.
These Mission Sisters so identify with their “guests” that they take vows of extreme poverty and become like the people they serve. They create homes, places of belonging for these rejected ones, who have forgotten how to smile, forgotten the human touch, and have a greater hunger for these than for food.
The sisters choose to live in poverty, sharing the suffering of their “guests,” with them in their misery. The Sisters are poor in things, but wealthy in Creating Belonging. Their riches: smiles, touch, attention, care, and “glad-to-be-together-with-you.” The Unwanted become Wanted, and Belong.
Whether in everyday small interactions, or in radical lifestyle, we can strive to cultivate the beautiful skill of becoming hospitable, developing compassionate eyes, and so spread the restorative balm of healing and help. It is quite a lovely thing to make those around us feel noticed, wanted, cared for, sheltered, and included. A beautiful gift of Grace.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~Mother Teresa
Yours for a return toward Grace, Civility, Beauty, Gentility, and Excellence,