I've been thinking an awful lot about hospitality lately.
It's something I have thought that I'm pretty good at. I enjoy having people over to the house and to cook food for them. I like to make donuts or muffins or other baked goods to welcome new people to our community. If we have a guest or a friend of the community who is visiting, I'm always quick to offer to host them at my house. I enjoy having people over for conversation. I've even started inviting my coworkers out for coffee (which I pay for), to foster relationships and to get to know them better.
So, I like to pat myself on the back. Hospitality? Yeah, I got that.
But, recently, through some things I've been reading and through situations that are present in my life, I've come to realize that hospitality is more than that. And often, I'm not as good at it as I'd like to be.
Oh, sure, I'm good at welcoming people into my house. I can make a good spinach and mushroom lasagna or whip up a batch of chocolate donuts for people to eat at my table. I can let someone use the spare bedroom in my house for a couple nights, or offer them a cup of coffee and a spot to sit on the couch.
But real hospitality is broader than that. It's more than making a space in your house for someone. It's clearing away the clutter and other things that can get in the way, and making a space of peace and welcome for the other not just on your couch or at your table, but in your heart, as well.
Sometimes that can be easy. The person you want to welcome can make you feel at ease or comfortable. They can make the act of welcoming them seem easy and natural. It can be no problem to offer hospitality to someone who looks like us, thinks like us, acts like us or smells like us.
But hospitality isn't just about offering a space to people we like, or with whom we are comfortable. It's also about offering a space for the other, for the stranger, for people we might prefer to ignore. It is making a space of welcome for all people.
Hospitality is also about welcoming people as they are, not only if they will become as I want them to be. I can't say to someone, "You are welcome here, but only if you change this part about you." Those are not words of welcome and that is not hospitality.
L'Arche is about hospitality. It's about making a space of welcome and inclusion for people who are often on the margins of society. It's about creating a space for adults with developmental disabilities to be able to call their home. When people hear that this is what I'm doing with my life, they often respond with comments about how I must be some sort of saint, or how they could never do anything like that.
In response to being called a saint because of her work, Dorothy Day responded: "Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily."
For me, I don't want to be called a saint because most days I don't feel like one. Ok, pretty much every day is a day I don't feel like one. In my interactions with the people I live with I see all sorts of ways I could have been more hospitable, more inclusive, more welcoming and accepting of who they are and where they are on their journey.
But the thing about L'Arche is that they don't let me off the hook that easily. These people with whom I could be more hospitable are with me everyday. So, when I lose my temper and snap at someone for asking me a question for the 507th time, I can't really just get up and go away and never see them again. Instead, I have to sit next to them at supper that same day.
In L'Arche we strive to welcome all people as they are, realizing that it is these things about us that seem broken or imperfect that make us who we are. Living in this community I have been gifted to see that these people who are often seen by the greater society as somehow lacking or incomplete are really quite remarkable people. They have such amazing gifts to share, if we are willing to take the time to slow down and receive them.
Life in L'Arche is not easy. There are things I have had to give up to choose to live here. Sometimes I have to miss out on things that I would really love to do because I have made a commitment to life in this community. And it can be easy to focus on what I do not have, but if I do that too much than I can easily overlook all that I am gaining.
Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, sums it up quite remarkably in one of his letters: "L'Arche is a school of love where we learn to love others who are different. This requires each person to grow in humility and to work on themselves. It means learning to see each person as somebody in whom God dwells, a person from whom we can receive gifts and who can help us to grow in love."
I have a mug that I use to drink my coffee every morning. It was made by a core member from the L'Arche Daybreak community in Canada. On it there are drawings of four people, two of whom are in wheelchairs, and above them are the words "All Are Welcome." That is true hospitality. That is the vision of L'Arche. And I pray that I might make a space where all can be welcome in my house and also in my heart.