“Being able to lighten up is the key to feeling at home with your body, mind and emotions, to feeling worthy to live on this planet”–Pema Chodron
I recently visited a new church, I wanted to go since they started. New churches have been my passion and desire and I wanted to learn the journey of the person who initiated this project. As always, when I am searching for something new, I contacted the pastor and introduced myself and tried to set a time to get to know him. Most of the time, the first meeting happened after a while, because I believe relationships take time, but now I can say that I have gained a new friend.
When I have a reunion in my house, I usually invited everybody: friends, friend’s of friends or even strangers. I prepare my house for the up coming of people, clean every room, set the table, cook a good meal, and make of my home a good and welcoming place. When they get to the house I tried to practice hospitality and I become a good host, always welcoming people and offer them wherever they need for their best experience at my place. But lamentably I can not make people to relax and feel at home; yes I can create the space but the experience itself it is only done by the individuals. Henry Nouwen said, “we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place”.
Usually I can easily get caught in all the excitement of preparing and cleaning that I forget about my own guests. One of the traits of my personality—and my friend John Purdue has confirmed it to me—is that I am a person that connects people. So when a guest come to my house I will make sure he will meet someone else, so he can relate and connect with others. No one has to feel themselves alone. I am also know that if I am the guest and not the host, I tend to be very shy and it is really hard for me to get to know people, so I will need the help of the host to open myself and start relating with others. So my point in all these is how can we translate the experience of receiving guest into our house to receive guest into our communities of faith?
When I arrived to this new church, the host, welcomed me with an awesome hug—checked–, the greeters gave a bulleting an smiled at me when I enter the lobby—checked–, they introduced themselves, and told me where I could seat, I was even introduced to other people so I would not feel like a stranger surrounded by unknown people—unchecked–. Yes! I was left alone to enter into the auditorium and found myself in a very uncertain territory, surrounded by people that I did not know, without knowing if we had something in common. I came desiring community in the midst of a new church and I found myself isolated. No one, close, approached me to introduce themselves and let me know what was happening. No one got closer to be friended me and may be have the possibility to have lunch with them. No one one said bye to me, because by the time the gathering was done, the greeters were already cleaning the house. Please do not take me wrong I had a great time singing, listening to an “awesome” teaching and enjoying the part I like the most in a service(mass): The Table of the Lord (Eucharistic).
I know is hard to create that in a big gathering, sometimes impossible; but we need to be aware of the new people, those who are in our house for the first time, those who are not familiar with our traditions and lifestyle, and be able to create community even in the midst of a large gathering. Many places that are created to bring people closer together and help them form a peaceful community have degenerated to be a passive place of listening without interaction, of assistance without connecting, of experience without relating, unless we know them already. We are people of the known, the unknown make us uncomfortable,insecure and distant in both sides, as a guest or a host. Practicing hospitality doesn’t end at the lobby or in the door of my house, it is a lifestyle we need to practice and as Nouwen said, “ Maybe the concept of hospitality can offer a new dimension to our understanding of a healing relationship and the formation of a re-creative community in a world so visibly suffering from alienation and estrangement.”
This is not a negative comment about this new community, it is just a reminder to myself that I need to always look around and find the stranger among any gathering–specially those I host– and make an effort to be the host I need to be so I can help transform the stranger into a friend…..by the way I will keep going to this community because I would love to get to know people and feel part of their fellowship, besides the teaching is less boring than my own.