I’m sheepish to admit that I went through my “aspiring to be like Martha Stewart” phase. I love to cook, (and mostly bake) lovely and delicious things,
and welcome people to my home and table. Except that my home has two big dogs and two little children and one introvert, and Martha doesn’t talk about how to make handmade centerpieces when the kids are crying and the dogs are running off with your supplies dangling out of their mouths, and the husband is dreading the impending house full of people.
The most extravagant meal I ever hosted was a five course dinner with a table full of eminent theologians, including Douglas John Hall. We had moved into our house just a few months earlier, and had not yet built our new, spacious kitchen, which was mapped out with blue tape on the floor of an empty room. The cramped kitchen had no dishwasher, almost no counter space, and room for two people to stand back to back, and was so small that our refrigerator was in the living room. I cooked for two days in this kitchen, running to the living room for ingredients and washing all the dishes by hand. The day of the dinner I bought a new tablecloth, sent the kids and dogs to separate babysitters and set out the nice china. The evening was a blur, the food was delicious, and to make the joy of hosting complete, Douglas Hall told me, "That was the best cup of coffee I've had in America.” I spent three hours cleaning up after that meal, with stacks of dishes precariously towered around the tiny kitchen, but what an evening it had been.
Hospitality. I use to think it was Martha. Clean house, detail-oriented, Miss Manners perfection. And while I desired to offer that, not only was it an impossibility which I could never achieve, it also turned my stomach a bit, to be completely honest. For me that is too formal, too flawless. Flavor is in the chaos, the humanity and the humor. Seeing these famous and respected theologians holding wine glasses and chatting while standing on top of my blue tape counter tops and cupboards, or sitting with their hor dourves balanced on their knees, candles flickering light on their faces and reflecting off the refrigerator next to them is part of what made that evening so delightful. The laughter, stories and sharing, the meeting and knowing one another, leaving different than you arrived… Hospitality isn’t at all about Martha’s perfect details. It is much deeper, much more elemental and powerful than that. It is opening ourselves, our lives, our very being to others, authentically, mutually. And we can do this because God welcomes us to the table, turning strangers into friends, drawing us into the life of generosity and love that exists within the Trinity.
We are on a journey to deepen and discover anew hospitality in the life of our congregation. It is changing us and shaping us, making us see differently, feel differently, talk and think differently. Hospitality is transforming us: That we may welcome others as they are, and share our real selves with them, that we may embrace our flaws and delight in the texture they bring to the encounter, that we may know the reality of being welcomed with open arms and heart into the love and life of God, and extend that experience to others.
"Hospitality is salvation." Come to the table!
I love how Diana Butler Bass talks about it in this video clip.
image at top of post by Jan Richardson, www.janrichardsonimages.com, used with permission.