Hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin. I was first clued in to this fact when I learned Latin. The Latin word, hospes, gives us the English words, hospital, hospice and related words. In its Latin form, it can be translated “host,’ “guest” or “stranger.” That is why I can say that hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin. The Latin coin is hospes. Let’s look at each side of the coin.
Probably most of us learn about being a guest before we learn about hosting. I have early childhood memories of going with my dad into the town in early mornings. For a kid growing up on the farm, this was a big deal. Since I was the oldest kid, there could be an entire day when I would see no one except my two parents. That was not bad. But it was more fun to go to town and see some of my dad’s friends.
Often we would stop at the local drugstore, which was really the epicenter of human interaction on an early morning in that small town. There the guys would gather, have coffee and talk about local sports and world news. I felt years beyond my age when they would accept me into the circle. At least, that is how I interpreted.
I would not have had the language yet that could have told you I was a guest in their midst. They were gracious to me. They invited me into their space. They made space for someone who did not quite fit. I was young, inexperienced and had literally nothing to contribute to the conversation. But I was their guest. And I felt immensely important for having been included.
I think that early experience taught me much about being a guest. People invited me into the gang. They made a place for me---even though it was a temporary visit. They made me feel welcome and important. I was put at ease. I was comfortable. I could be myself---no pretentions needed to be present. They helped me to learn how to invite guests into my places and my life. This has been a great lesson in life for me.
If we turn over the coin, the other side is the hosting side. To host is to initiate. To host someone is to invite him or her into your place---your home, your room, or even your space. Fundamental to hosting is the willingness to include and to share. There is a kind of grace to effective hosting. Perhaps some folks are naturally gifted with hosting abilities.
But I am also sure we can learn to be effective hosts. In the first place, effective hosts are people who are willing to take responsibility for hosting. Guests are at the mercy of the hosts. In fact, one cannot be a guest until someone decides to be a host. In addition to taking responsibility, the effective host makes the whole process easy and pleasant when he or she is gracious. Bringing a guest or stranger into a place of comfort takes effort and grace.
The effective host makes the guest feel comfortable and even wanted. A good host makes being guest easy. We all know what it is like to feel awkward. A feeling of being awkward often is accompanied by the feeling that “I want out of here!” When some people host me, that “I want out of here” feeling dominates my thinking. Instead of relaxing as a guest, I am furtively looking for the fastest way out of the situation. I find myself praying for a “guest exit” sign!
By the time we become adults, we have experienced both being hosts and being guests. In my experience they both were learned and take some effort. Perhaps being host is a little more demanding, simply because the host is the initiator and the responsible one---at least in the beginning.
As I write this, I realize this phenomenon is potentially quite spiritual. Perhaps this hosting-being guest experience is very much an analogy to the human encounter with the Holy One. It is tempting to think God is always the host and we humans are always the guests. But this misses half the opportunity.
For sure, the Holy One is a host. In fact, God is an amazing host. Potentially God hosts us into some of the truly profoundest places and opportunities. By definition God invites us into relationship, includes us, makes us comfortable, is gracious unto us and so much more. As guests, there is so much to look forward to when the Divine Hosting includes us.
I also think we can host the Holy One. God invites us, to be sure. But we also can invite God into our midst, into our lives. In fact, some of us have lived a life so self-focused, it would be fair to say God is actually a stranger. For God to become real to us will require that we take the initiative and invite God to be our guest.
To be human is to be both host and guest. Consider life to be an opportunity to practice both.