One cannot think of Andrei Rublev, the Orthodox monk who at the turn of the fifteenth century produced this icon near Muscovy, the precursor to modern-day Moscow, without also thinking of his spiritual abba and mentor Sergius of Radonezh. Their stories are as entwined as that of a boy and his father.
With this in mind, a particular event from Sergius’s childhood is worth recounting. Sergius was a good and earnest student, yet he struggled to read, says his hagiography. But one momentous day a starets, a spiritual elder, visited him and gave him holy bread. From this day on Sergius could read. Christians soon adopted the belief that this visitor was, in fact, an angel. It is not difficult to see possible linkages between this event in Sergius’s life and the icon Rublev created decades later. Notice the Trinity is presented as three angels (the text that informs this image, Genesis 18:2, refers only to “three men”), offering us holy bread.Read More
Ok, I admit it. I am not very good at welcoming strangers. I am sure this is due, in part, to my introverted nature and the fact that my relational world is already very full. Truth be told, on most days I just don’t feel the need for more relationships and would rather stick with the intimate few. The other part of the truth is that some strangers are, well, stranger than others, which make things just plain uncomfortable. And since I am being completely honest—I seem to have the ability to walk into a room and sense immediately who is the strangest of them all so I can then expend vast amounts of energy avoiding the whole situation. I am not proud of this; I’m just sayin’…Read More
During each Christmas season, God assigns me a role in the nativity scene so I can focus on something besides painful memories that can derail me at the holidays. A couple of years ago, God assigned me the role of the innkeeper. In that innkeeper role, I became the midwife for Jesus’s birth—and also a midwife for people who are experiencing their own rebirth at the manger. I felt this role as a profound calling and I was grateful for this compassionate gift from God. But God, in infinite wisdom, had more in store for me that Christmas.Read More
When I was in a time of crisis, Andy and Phyllis opened their home to my infant son and me. Andy is my long-time supervisor at work, and he and Phyllis have taken in so many people in various transitions that we joke that it is a rite of passage to live in their home for a while.
Andy and Phyllis taught me a lot about hospitality in the easy way they hosted me. They have a room always at the ready. The house itself is comfortable and uncluttered. You never feel in the way in the shared living spaces, and at the same time privacy was readily available. Their teenage son, David, babysat for my son and was nonchalant when the baby threw up all over him. David, too, was offering hospitality.Read More
Naming is deeper than labeling. It includes the labels we give to things and people, but it is primarily a matter of the heart. Names are given in the heart and then embodied in words and actions. Names are first and foremost expressions of relationship. Embedded in our words and actions are the names we give to and receive from others. Gestures of value, nods of recognition, glances of curiosity, looks of compassion and signs of paying attention build up one another. Alternatively, when negative words and actions combine, naming can strip or even threaten a person’s life.Read More
My childhood home was a row house (what we would now call a townhome) with seven people—five children and two parents—with five bedrooms and one bathroom. Our living quarters were full. One would not expect such an already crowded home to welcome guests, and certainly not overnight visitors. But it did.Read More
I liked the idea better when it was only talked about in the leadership meeting. Putting it into action was difficult. That idea, the “three-minute guideline,” suggested that in the last three minutes before the church service began and in the first three minutes after it ended, leaders would greet only people we didn’t know. While I’ve always felt empathetic toward newcomers, I found I really just wanted to talk to the people I knew. It was . . . easier, more fun.Read More
Henri Nouwen remains one of the most prolific and insightful writers when it comes to spirituality and ministry. In this combined field, the recurring theme of hospitality stands out as a key focus in a number of his works. Much has been written on the topic of hospitality and how it figures within the broad umbrella of spiritual ministry. Henri Nouwen’s unique take on it is hailed by many as the most nuanced, if not the most substantive, in this area of study. The sheer expansiveness of his treatment of the subject is unparalleled, although his conclusion is strikingly plain and simple: ministry is all about hospitality, and real hospitality is what embodies an authentic ministry.Read More
Christianity is more than a way of thinking; it is way of worship and a way of life. Christianity derived patterns of thinking, worshipping, and living through sustained reflection on scripture. In the patristic era ethics, spirituality and theology were grounded in biblical interpretation. Consequently, the best method to explore the spiritual and theological implications of the practice of welcoming the stranger is to consult the central biblical texts on the subject. The locus classicus of biblical notions of hospitality include two Old Testament examples—Abraham and Sarah receiving the three strangers (Genesis 18), Lot’s welcoming the two angels at the gate of Sodom— and two New Testament passages—Christ’s declaration, “I was a stranger, and you took me in” (Matthew 25) and the exhortation to “show hospitality to strangers” in Hebrews 13:2.Read More
To walk up to the Homeboy Industries building in the shadow of Los Angeles City Hall is to find yourself in the middle of a community with surprising similarities to a monastery. There, in gang-neutral territory, former gang members dressed in various colored T-shirts with the slogans “Jobs, not Jails” and “Homeboy Industries” sweep the sidewalks, step aside to let you pass, and say, “Hello, Ma’am” or “Hello, Sir.” As you open the door, you are greeted by a 20-something male receptionist who smiles and speaks to you more politely than the teen who lives next door to you ever has.Read More