We are entertaining more than usual this season, three family events, about 20 people each time, three weeks in a row. I have been thinking of guests and hospitality.
When I first met Leo and spent time at his family home with his family of 11, I was most taken by the amount of people who would simply stop by with no notice and, most frequently over a meal time. Somehow more food would be found, a jar of peaches from the root cellar, another loaf of bread, smaller pieces of cake, anything to make the meal go further. Sometimes, I felt that I was watching the story of the Loaves and Fishes. With smiles on their faces, laughter, story telling, and card playing, the guests were welcomed with open arms and hearts and made to feel at home. Living as my family did, further from family and relatives, we did not share that experience unless we were visiting in the Upper Peninsula as the guests.
In many cultures the guest is seen as God having just walked through your door. The guest is offered the best even if there is very little. The guest would not necessarily be someone known to you but a stranger, a traveler, or a group of travelers seeking food, shelter, and hospitality for the weary. We know the role of the host but what of the guest? The guest, who might be experienced as God in human form, is to receive what the host has to offer, humbly accepting their gracious service. We live in a more cynical time. It is hard to imagine us opening our homes and welcoming in a stranger who shows up at the door.
We like to feel prepared for any guest, sending out invitations, preparing the home and the food for the event, and being in control of the situation. Like a wedding or even a funeral, we plan and usually our plans do not behave and we are met with a surprise. An estranged uncle shows up, a few we planned on and paid for decide not to arrive as promised. We feel hurt, angry, and complain for weeks after. We hold on to the experience because it is not what we planned. At times we might even feel that it ruined our time, our event. The unwanted change, we feel, took something from us.
We find out that even God can change her plans. Rather than expecting the unexpected, we expect that our life will be honored the way we design it and when things don’t turn out the way we expect, we move into anxiety, irritation, hurt, complaining, and anger. These emotional and mental states are really the unwanted guests and once these unwanted guests arrive, we have a hard time being the host we really want to be. Our body, mind and emotions become the hosting ground for a whole group that wants to camp out and take over, not allowing the peace we desire, and we become distracted. We really desire to be the hosts to truth, love, beauty, and all that is of highest virtue in our own lives and being the host requires adjusting as we go.
When we bring this attitude into our own hearts, accepting ourselves and others as we are along with the surprise elements that show up, we grow into patience, recognizing the opportunity for taking a breath, allowing the surprise to ride through us, and when the body is calm again, opening a heart to that which is unexpected. Not good or bad, simply unexpected. We adjust. We throw out the plan and let a new script be written.
I enjoy being the host and I enjoy being the guest and I look forward over the next two weeks to the humble task of serving, with, hopefully, surprises and all.