Friday, July 15, 2011

Radical Hospitality

We have grown to expect someone wearing a blue vest to say "hello" to us when we walk through the doors of Wal-Mart. We believe our water glasses should remain full when we journey through the doors of a sit-down restaurant. But one does not always expect everyone to say "hello" when visiting a college campus.

I've spent a lot of time on college campuses. I love university life. The energy of the quad could latch on me like a band aid when walking across Duke's campus at the end of a workday. But there is something remarkable - something rather tangible - about the hospitality of the place where I have spent this past week.

Over 100 monks have made St. John's Monastery their home. While you expect to see men in black in the chapel where they gather to pray three times a day, you also see these men in black getting something to drink in the refectory or walking across campus. The men in black are a fixture of the campus of St. John's University. And there is something about their way of life that has penetrated every aspect of this campus.

The rule of St. Benedict reads, "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for him himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Another rule reads that the maxim for hospitality itself is from 1 Peter 2:17, "you must honor everyone."

These words are found in different places across campus. They sneak up and surprise you as you are walking along a paved path. But what is more striking is the ways in which these words are being lived.

Everyone speaks to you on campus.

Students hold doors open for you when you are walking into different buildings.

When I say "thank you," for something, a person asks if there is anything else they can get me.

When I open the refrigerator where our sessions are held to get something cold to drink, I see not only Coke and Diet Coke but some seventeen different varieties of soda and three flavors of sparkling water. There are five different kinds of milk for my cereal or coffee. Another refrigerator holds orange, apple and cranberry juice. We had fajitas last night for dinner - accompanied by six different kinds of Mexican beer. On the first day we were here, we were invited to let them know if there was anything else we might need during our stay that was not already here. I put "low calorie Gatorade for electrolyte imbalance" on the list and came home to find four flavors of exactly what I asked for in my apartment's refrigerator.

Small details. Some would say wasteful. Others would say extravagant or over the top.

But there is something about the Benedictine way of life that is not reserved for only the men in black. Each person has had a taste of this hospitality and understands the impact it can make upon a person. All here seem to understand the power of not only being noticed but abundantly welcomed into this space and place. Each one, whether fully aware or not, is doing their part to practice the ancient practice upon which the place is built.

We believe coffee hour at church is something we do because we have always done it. But perhaps coffee hour is the time in which we can most expect to greet Christ as we go out of our way to offer a cup of coffee or hot tea to the stranger whose name we do not yet know. Perhaps coffee hour should be given as much effort as the worship hour when it comes to the energy expended on a Sunday morning.

We often find it easier to pass the peace with the people we know. But if we were to expect to greet Christ then we would go out of our way to make sure the person we do not yet know is welcomed first.

We eat dinner together at the church on Wednesday evenings, always preparing food for the one who has not RSVPd. I sometimes get annoyed when extras come who have not taken the time to call or email me with their intentions to eat, but perhaps this extra person is Christ - Christ who says, "you were a stranger and you welcomed me."

There is something about the fabric of this place. The love and welcome of Christ is woven throughout it. It's a powerful thing to experience.

Christ, help me to see you today and welcome you. Christ, help us to expect you each Sunday morning when we gather as we go out of our way to welcome the stranger. Christ, help us to soak up your love and grace until all that we do is patterned after you. May we abundantly welcome others as you have welcomed us. Amen.

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