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Praying about the emotions of hospitality

Lynne Baab • Tuesday June 13 2023

Praying about the emotions of hospitality

“Hospitality . . . is a feeling: genuine, welcoming, generous, restorative, safe.
—Bethany Jean Clement, Seattle Times staff writer

I captured that quotation because I loved the list of descriptors the author uses. I thought her words were marvelous fuel for prayers about being hospitable. However, the more I thought about it, the more questions I had.

One way to look at this quotation is that Clement is describing the feelings evoked in the person receiving hospitality. However, those feelings usually also a play a role for the giver of hospitality.

Before I dive deeper into the questions the quotation raised for me, let me tell you about the article where Clement wrote these thoughts about hospitality. She was describing a restaurant in Pullman, Washington, that is a finalist for a James Beard award. She outlined the amazing service offered by that restaurant and all top restaurants. Toward the end of the article, she admits that the servers who meet the public are fallible human beings, depending on the equally fallible human beings who prepare the food in the kitchen. That’s when she says that hospitality is a feeling.

Yes, when we offer hospitality, we hope that the people receiving the hospitality will experience emotions like Clement describes—“genuine, welcoming, generous, restorative, safe.” But hospitality to me is actions extended to others with the intent of helping them experience those feelings of welcome, generosity, and safety. We cannot know how our actions will be perceived by others.

I vividly remember being in the home of a distant relative. She offered me a second serving of lunch about ten times. I had already eaten enough! I knew her offers were intended to be generous and welcoming, but they didn’t feel that way, especially after the first couple of times. I hope I haven’t made guests in my home feel uncomfortable with my well-intentioned efforts, but I bet I have. I hope I haven’t made visitors to church feel uncomfortable with my attempts to be welcoming, but I bet I have.

Clement’s words, and my memory of that uncomfortable lunch, make me wonder if one of the most important prayers related to hospitality is to ask God for perception. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to sense what might communicate warmth and welcome to each unique person. We also need the Holy Spirit’s deep peace so that we can offer welcome without obsessing about how the other person is receiving it and responding to it.

The Christian spiritual practice of hospitality focuses on the practice: the actions, attitude, and welcome extended, as well as the relationship built between the giver and receiver of hospitality, who often shift roles. Sometimes we start out as the person giving hospitality, and then our guest becomes the giver in some unexpected and beautiful way. We can pray for that “guest-host shift” illustrated so powerfully in the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-35).

Whether we are the guest or host, or both, Bethany Jean Clement’s descriptors of the emotions of hospitality are relevant. Here’s a brief prayer based on each one. Maybe one of these prayers will be helpful to you.

Genuine. God of integrity, help me to be so aware of your care for me that I can extend a sincere and warm welcome to others. Help my efforts of hospitality to come from a heart that knows your love.

Welcoming. Creator God, who welcomes us to live on this beautiful earth, so abundantly provisioned by your creativity, help me to extend an abundant welcome to everyone I meet.

Generous. Kind and generous God, you have been so good to me. Help me to be so aware of your generous gifts to me that I am motivated to be generous to others.

Restorative. Jesus, in your life, death, resurrection, and sending of the Holy Spirit, you are working to restore us to the people we were meant to be. You are restoring us to the beauty you placed in us at creation. Please guide us into acts of hospitality that bring restoration to others.

Safe. God, our rock and refuge, we need your help to act in ways that touch the deep places where people are wounded. Please give us your peace that passes all understanding so we help others feel safe.

I wrote two weeks ago about hospitality and prayer. I mentioned our need to accept God’s forgiveness when we fall short in extending welcome. I also described the centrality of welcome in God’s character and actions toward us. May the Holy Spirit empower each of us to grow in both prayer and actions in the Christian spiritual practice of hospitality.

(This is the fifth post in a series on spiritual practices and prayer. If you’d like to learn more about spiritual practices and see a list of all the posts in the series, the first post of the series is here. Illustration by Dave Baab: Macrina Bakery, Capitol Hill, Seattle. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

More about the guest-host shift:

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