"She Saved a Place at the Table for Me"
In last week's listening groups, one of the women used this phrase about four times: "She saved a place at the table for me." It was obvious to the rest of us, who were taking our turn listening, that this invitation had emotional meaning for our new friend. Having recently moved back to the area, she had left behind networks and associations and was now starting out almost new. That simple act of welcome had touched her profoundly.
The phrase struck me, and since I have been thinking about hospitality in a big way, I wrote it down. At its essence, scriptural hospitality has everything to do with "saving a place at the table" for others.
In her wonderful book Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Christine D. Pohl makes the point that, at its heart, hospitality has to do with welcoming the stranger. "This has been the most important passage for the entire tradition on Christian hospitality. 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me' resounds throughout the ancient texts, and contemporary practitioners of hospitality refer to this text more often than to any other passage."
Dorothy Day, of the Catholic Workers Movement, explained the ongoing significance of this passage (Matthew 25:35) in shaping her thinking during a lifetime of ministering to the destitute, "There He was, homeless. Would a church take Him in today—feed Him, clothe Him, offer Him a bed? I hope I ask myself that question on the last day of my life. I once prayed to God that he never, ever let me forget to ask that question." In another century, St. Jerome challenged clergy to "let poor men and strangers be acquainted with your modest table, and with them Christ shall be your guest."
Last night, I set my dining room table with the fall arrangement (a ceramic guinea fowl, pumpkins, and brown candles), laid out the place settings for ten guests (a brown and cream-patterned tablecloth from St. Paul de Vence in France, mustard-color chargers from Mexico topped with red soup plates, and brown mugs and brown bean pots from Crate and Barrel.) I've learned when the holidays are so busy, if I set the table early in the month without the imminent pressure of guests coming that evening, we welcome more easily. This table will stay in place the rest of October and all the way through November. After guests leave, we wash the goblets, silverware and dishes and just store them back on the holiday table! It saves me all kinds of work, and it looks lovely.
I've invited my high-school class retreat committee to come for dinner. (I wasn't going to force this into my schedule, but one of the gals said, "You know what the highlight of our 45th reunion was? It was having dinner at your home.") Valerie Bell and I have designed French Soirées for November as a means of inviting neighbors for a pre-Christmas outreach. And I am spinning a Grand Scheme regarding using the Internet to stimulate the growth of hospitality ministries in churches across the nation. So we are inviting a team of good thinkers to share homemade soup and to do a little change-the-world brainstorming.
So, after thinking about my listening group friend's words, I am determined to hitch up my resolve and make a place at my table (ten places, actually)!
At its heart, hospitality is about giving welcome. The Revised Standard Version translates Romans 15:7 this way: "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God." At its heart, hospitality is about giving acceptance. The New International Version translates Romans 15:7 this way: "Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." At its heart, hospitality is about receiving others. The New King James version translates Romans 15:7 this way: "Receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God."
Welcome. Acceptance. Reception. Are you making places at your table?
Last year, Hungry Souls put together some prayer cards as gifts for friends who have contributed money and energy to this ministry. We thought the following prayer by John Stott was a powerful reminder of the work of hospitality in the world and in our hearts:
We respond to your invitation, O God. As we are, we come.
Be our guard, for we guard ourselves too much. Be our protector, that we need not overprotect ourselves.
Create in us a space, a room, a place—free and friendly space where the stranger may be welcomed
Nudge, guide, entice, prod. Move us to live within your will. To the end that within this flesh, within this house in which we live, we may be at home with you, our neighbor, with ourselves.
Thus we pray, remembering Christ who says, "I stand at the door and knock."
We are ready to go to the printers to order several hundred copies of these prayer cards. If you would like to order some as gifts or for your own table, we can make them available. Prices and ordering information are listed below. Perhaps they will be a way of reminding ourselves of this truth written by Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche:
"Welcome is one sign that a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we are not afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share. A community that refuses to welcome—whether through fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it is fed up with visitors—is dying spiritually."
Annual Advent Women's Retreat of Silence
Tuesday, December 4 - Wednesday, December 5, 2007.
Has anyone ever given you the gift of silence?
Every year at the start of the new church calendar (at Advent, the four weeks before Christmas), we provide a guided experience in silence. This is a beginning in time; a time to be still, to quiet yourself, to turn your heart toward God, to receive the gift of being before the onrush of the holidays and of the New Year.
Have you ever given yourself the gift of silence?
Sibyl Towner and Valerie Bell will be retreat leaders. More details to follow. Cost is $95; checks can be made out to Hungry Souls and mailed to our registrar, Melodee Cook, 18N184 Hidden Hills Trail, West Dundee, IL 60118. To register, contact her via e-mail at . Or call Susan Hands at our office: 630-293-4500. I would like to have as many as possible registered by November 15!
Have you ever given the gift of silence to someone else?
If you would like to send an e-flyer about the Advent Retreat of Silence to a friend, just download this PDF flyer and forward it by e-mail attachment or print it to post on a bulletin board or hand out to friends.
The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted each week on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the weekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
At its essence, scriptural hospitality has everything to do with "saving a place at the table" for others.
Holiday Prayer Cards
Prayer Cards with John Stott Quote are available in packets of 8 or 10.
The image shown above is printed on the left front side of the card and
the John Stott prayer is printed on the right front side.