1999 Sunday sun streamed in through stained glass windows. Feeling warm and whole I worshiped in the comforting embrace of that familiar pew. Sinking down in the musty velvet seat like a diamond in an antiquated jewelry box.
Then suddenly trembling bones and arctic chills shook me something fierce; hit me like a glacier in the safe harbor of my sanctuary. Wrapping my cardigan tight I tried to dispel the shivers that came up from beneath my skin rather than against it.
Confused I looked for an open window or a culprit vent, but found instead a woman, frail with strings of unkept hair falling from her carelessly spun bun. She was my senior, by 20 years at least. I was barely past childhood, though old enough to know the cold I felt was spiritual not physical, purposed to blow me to her side that she might receive warmth.
But the sermon was starting up, and two pairs of knees separated us from one another, so as the pastor preached, I prayed for the one who wept a few yards down the row. As the congregation listened, read, sang, stood up then sat back down, I shook like a leaf, moved by an unseen force.
When the doxology rang out and the church doors swung wide, I felt a hand upon my shoulders, holding me down in my seat. I wanted to run for the warmth of the Southern California sun, out on the patio with friends, but I shivered in my seat, glancing awkwardly down the bench at the one who remained bent and broken.
"If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.… (Dueteronomy 15:7-8)
Breathing deep I collected my things then slid down to her. She looked up but I didn’t smile – I didn’t want to pretend that her hurt could be fixed with upturned lips and apologetic eyes, so I simply took her hand and nodded. Before I knew it we were crying together.
15 years later, and I've finally fastened a label to that experience I had as a young woman holding tight to a stranger, shackled and undone.
When I slid down that pew, I collided with the very heart of Hospitality;
The crux, the Latin root, Hostis, meaning stranger.
In this Pinterest age of decorated mantles and color coordinated centerpieces,
we confuse Entertaining with Hospitality.
Hospitality is not a clean house.
Hospitality is rarely about clean guests.
Hospitality is messier, more sacrificial.
Hospitality is giving up warmth for someone freezing on the outside;
The warmth of your heart and the warmth of your hearth, the warmth of a meal or simply your embrace.
Sometimes we can plan those collisions,
other times we merely obey the push,
give into the pull, and fall headlong into love.
Dear Lord, shake us from the comfort of our cocoons, our pews, our homes, and push us by the power of your Holy Spirit out and into your aching world. We pray, Amen.