As I anticipate joining the L’Arche community this summer, I can’t help buy notice how hospitality is beginning to take on a new meaning for me. At the start of the winter semester, I decided that I wanted to look at giving and receiving hospitality as an intentional practice. This got me frequently hosting friends at my apartment, but I quickly learned that hospitality is so much more than that, and I think that realization has really transformed me.
The first thing I paid attention to was learning how to show hospitality in my daily interactions. For me, this means learning to be mindful of others around me and their unique circumstances and challenges. I try to always start the day with a prayer thanking God for a new day, for the opportunities and challenges it will bring, and for each person I will come into contact with. I ask God to help me to serve them as His hands and feet, offering them a cup of cold water when they need it the most. And I also thank Him for how I will see Christ in them that day. Throughout the day, I have been contentiously extending an effort to listen to others, to care about them, and to be emotionally available. These are all growing edges for an average young extroverted-extrovert such as myself, but gradually the seeds are starting to sprout in my life.
I’ve also given quite a bit of thought to the shape hospitality will take at L’Arche and I have come to believe that at the same time as I will be helping others, others will be extending hospitality to me. The core members and I will have to be real and vulnerable with each other at times – hospitable to the conditions of our hearts. I will need to show hospitality by being patient, affirming, and accepting, but the residents of L’Arche also show hospitality by opening their home to a complete stranger, sharing their life with her, and even relying on her for their most basic needs (even before they really get a chance to know her). This is further compounded by the fact that I am less than half the age of the majority of the residents and that most of them have been there several years before I arrived and will be there several years after I leave.
The core members show hospitality by being forgiving of the fact that I have no knowledge or training, and assuming the role of a teacher or mentor. They show hospitality by eating together, sharing a meal even when the person isn’t the greatest cook.
Yes, there are big acts of hospitality (opening the home to various visitors throughout the year and to potential assistants who come for the interview), but there are many more smaller acts of hospitality which go unnoticed. The man who asked me to be his sister, the woman who took me on as her mentee, the other man who loudly exclaimed that he loved me, and even the resident who asked for help even though she had never met me before. The lessons of hospitality can be learned in my apartment over a vegan dinner, but I’m slowly learning that most of the lessons come from much more unexpected places.