As we look at Becoming Community… journeying in hospitality and belonging, I move to the next chapter (first entry here.) of Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out: the Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. Chapter Four is entitled, “Creating Space for Strangers.”
“In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found… It is possible for men and women and obligatory for Christians to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings.”
Nouwen begins describing this hostility that so much of the world lives in. Because of competition and fear, we do not trust the stranger. We go through our lives as actors who act out “peace, justice, and love” but “cripple each other by mutual hostilities.” He defines hospitality, in contrast to this hostility, as “primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”
The idea is to create a paradox of emptiness… not one that is fearful, but one where strangers can find themselves free. Too often though, our empty spaces are fearful because we are used to being occupied (busy) or preoccupied (concerned with insecurities). We must remember that we cannot control people, we cannot force them to change. Rather, we must offer friendly open space, where we invite change to take place.