Friday, September 14, 2012

On Hospitality vs. Entertaining

Two major themes that have come up in our reading and discussion of The Odyssey so far are, first, the idea of journey and homecoming, and, second, the idea of hospitality.  At first, I was treating these two ideas as separate entities, but the more I read and turn the ideas over in my mind, the more I'm seeing the intersection.  The interlocking of these ideas - the weariness of journey, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual; the relief of homecoming; and the graciousness of others along the way is where the heart of hospitality really lies.

As I have grappled with this idea over the last few weeks, I have prayed that God would grow this aspect in my life.  And so I've been thinking about how to be more hospitable. 

Should we throw a party?
Have people over for dinner?
Host a small group?
Invite out-of-town guests?

And then my mind started to panic.

Our house is too small!

Our dining room table can only fit six!

Our guest room is in shambles!

Guest room? What guest room!  Who are you kidding?

But of course God, in all His wisdom, had other plans.  Because what I was thinking was Hospitality was getting mixed up with Entertaining.  With fancy napkins and place settings and appetizers.  Not that those are bad things.  Those can be fun! 

But hospitality is not those things.

In the (awesome) video that Edie made to get us started in our reading, she reminds us of the Greek word Xenia, which is hard to translate in the English language, but is most closely related to this idea of hospitality - selflessly opening your home as a place of rest and refuge for others. 

As Americans in the twenty-first century, this is very different than entertaining.  In fact quite the opposite.  We love to entertain.  We often love to throw parties and to have people come and see how spotless our house is, how lovely our yard looks, how delicious our food is.  But then we love to send them home.  The excitement of a party is thrilling but there is often great relief when it is over.  When the last person leaves and the dishes are done and you can finally get back to yourself and your normal.  There is no rest in a party.

And so here is what God has done.  He has brought along some friends who are going through a rough patch in their journey.  There is tension and a lot of unrest.  These friends have leaned on us heavily in the last few weeks, and it has made me readjust my entire view of Hospitality.  Suddenly, hospitality has become offering our couch for a nap.  Watching children play while people talk at the kitchen table.  Bringing home an extra sandwich from our dinner out in case someone shows up hungry.  In some cases, it has meant being flexible and changing plans to make ourselves available.

And it doesn't seem to have mattered that we have a small dining room table or that we haven't lint-rolled the cat hair off of the couch this week.  As much as I would love to offer these people a hot-homecooked meal, a sandwich from the restaurant where we ate dinner has been just fine. 

Isn't it funny how God does that?  How He chooses to teach us?  Readjusting our views and growing our hearts all at the same time?  As someone who struggles with perfectionism, this is a hard lesson that I'm learning. 

How are you doing with Xenia?

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