Looking for reading to supplement our Sunday night gathering’s study on Becoming Community… journeying in hospitality and belonging (intro entry here), I dusted off Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out: the Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. I’ll be reflecting on a number of things he wrote here, primarily from the section regarding moving from hostility to Hospitality.
Nouwen begins Chapter 4: Creating Space for Strangers by noting that the very world we live in is hostile. So many people are busy, lonely, estranged from friends, family, God. The world is so full of competition, aggression, fear, and suspicion. In this type of setting we as followers of Jesus have an obligation to “offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings.” When this happens, he writes, guests “reveal to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them.”
Nouwen defines hospitality as “creation of free space where a stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer space where change can take place… The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and find themselves free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free to leave and follow their own vocations.”
Nouwen makes the distinction between real hospitality and occupied|preoccupied space. We are so busy, active, and on the move, that more than anything else, we want our space to be occupied with something or someone… otherwise major anxiety sinks in. Radio, television, food… anything to keep us from having to face what is really going on inside us. These things going on inside us are what Nouwen calls the preoccupations. This is even more of a challenge to overcome than being occupied. What we have the opportunity to do, as hospitable ones, is to “offer space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center.”