I was rereading a passage from one of my favorite books, The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris. I know I have read that passage, but somehow it had not jumped out at me like it did this time. Norris says, “I have become convinced that hospitality is at the center of the Christian faith---the bread of the Eucharist is called the ‘host’ after all, and for good reason.” I will confess that I have an abiding interest in the theme of hospitality. So it is not surprising that this sentence appeals to me.
When I hit a sentence like this one, I want to stop and spend some time with it. This is the kind of reading that characterizes spirituality. So often we read simply to get content---perhaps to gain knowledge. But we don’t often take time simply to ponder what we read. Spiritual reading is not always about getting knowledge. I like to say that spiritual reading is designed to bring us into the Presence of the Spirit and enable us to soak in that Spirit. It is one of the most predictable ways for that to happen for me.
The key idea in that sentence from Norris is that hospitality is at the center of Christian faith. I agree with her, but I don’t know that I have thought enough about it fully to appreciate it. So let’s ponder what she is saying.
In the first place I laugh because it is vintage Kathleen Norris. She says something that is so different from what one might expect that she catches your attention. And then when you think about it, the profundity hits you. “Yes, that is exactly the way it is,” I think. Hospitality is the center of Christian faith. If you asked most Christians, they probably would say something about Jesus Christ or God or some other predictable answer. Now of course, these are not wrong. But I like Norris’ answer better. Here’s why.
Most people would know what hospitality means. To be hospitable means to receive a guest. Probably in many cases, we think about hosting someone in our home. The guest does not have to be a stranger, but strangers count as guests. I suppose it goes without saying, most of us are better at hosting friends than we are hosting strangers. Maybe that gives us the first insight into Norris’ view that hospitality is the center of the Christian faith. That faith does not insist that we have to be friends of God to be hosted by God. That’s a relief to me. It means that I don’t have to be perfect to sign on to the community. (And I suspect this is true about other religious traditions, too.)
At this point and maybe because I know too much theology, it is too easy for me to go to Christian doctrine. For example, I immediately think of the incarnation as the theological explanation for how God “hosts” us. Essentially, the incarnation is the doctrine that says God became human. As Christians we know this God-become-human as Jesus Christ. Now I have nothing against this particular doctrine. In fact, it fits my sense of who God is and how God works. But I am also convinced people are not saved by doctrine.
If we are saved (whatever that means!), I would opt for a “hosting God” as savior. I know that phrase sounds funny---a hosting God. But let’s pursue it a little more. Let’s assume the earth on which we live is a “home” of sorts. Because I have a house with an address, I never think about the earth as my “home.” But where else could my home-with-an-address exist without the “home” of the earth? Have you tried living on Mars lately? If we could all come to see that we share this larger “earth home,” we might look at things differently.
Secondly, I like to think that God is willing to host each one of us individually. In fact God is willing to do this hosting even if we don’t really deserve it. Let me be first in line to say that I do not deserve it. Of course most of the time I pretend that I do deserve whatever I get. I rationalize that my education, hard work, charm, personality---whatever---is the basis for all that I have.
Too easily I can dismiss those who have not done things my way as less than me. Those uneducated, slackers who have no charm and certainly no personality deserve very little---certainly much less than I do! Why would God bother hosting them?
But then it hit me. The one verse most Christians can cite from memory goes like this: “God so loved the world…” I am always embarrassed that it does not say, “God so loved me…” But that’s the trick of Divine Hospitality. If I can come to see my home as this “earth home” and all earth’s inhabitants as my neighbors, then I can begin to understand hospitality as the key to it all.
Hospitality is the key to salvation based on God’s love and brings peace on earth!