The spiritual practice of hospitality
Parsnips, a humble root vegetable, wait calm on a cutting board. A blue-collar veggie, they oddly resemble the gnarled and always slightly dirty digits of a day laborer. Slowly I scrape away the earthy/auburn skin to reveal a creamy interior, nudging them up the social ladder –peeled, they channel the long, elegant fingers of a socialite.
Perhaps in a violent violation of such a human metaphor, I slice. Diagonal discs pile high, waiting to be added to the stew.
Two hours ago, I dumped soup bones into water, boiled then simmered to create a broth. The house perfumed by the scent of beef and celery, as water transformed by leftovers becomes stock—rich and hearty.
Several hours before that, I invited friends. They are renovating their kitchen—but in the meantime huddle round a toaster oven most nights, or go out. “You don’t need to do that—you’ve had us over so many times already.” It’s been a long project.
“You’re so nice! We owe you!” No, they don’t. I try to explain that gathering friends round my humble, hand-me-down table, to eat food prepared in my oh-so-unrenovated kitchen, brings me a joy akin to being swept up in worship; fills me with a quiet giddiness. Such is the joy of the spiritual practice of hospitality.
Though often confused with entertaining, hospitality is a deeper practice. What I cook is irrelevant. The mismatched bowls are filled with a stew created by cleaning out the crisper, throwing the diced leftover roast and bones into water, adding parsnips, carrots, onions. Whatever is on hand is blessed by the joy of sharing it, of combining nothing and nothing to make something. What matters is not the elements, but the attitude.
My children gather round the table and welcome these friends. We listen and love. We share our stories, laugh and pray. I cannot engage in hospitality alone. It is a communal practice that draws our family together, one that ministers to others and draws us to one another.
We serve bread in a solid loaf, tearing into it as if we are taking communion. Which we are. Here at this table is the Eucharist, the word made flesh. how do we abide in Christ? By loving one another. We connect with the humble root of this word, eucharisteo, to be thankful. Which we are.
Thanks be to God.