During the life of our small congregation, five or six different households have engaged in the ancient practice of hospitality – opening their homes to the stranger. During this time, we have welcomed immigrants and refugees as well as people experiencing homelessness into our homes and into the very fabric of our hearts. Some have done this work for short periods of time, while others have engaged in this work for prolonged periods of time with no end in sight.
It is difficult work. It is life giving work. My particular sense, is that this work holds within it the possibility of healing us from our cultural addiction to empire, or what Brueegeman calls, “The Royal Consciousness,” towards the creation of a radically liberated community oriented towards what he calls “The alternative religion of the freedom of God.”
It is significant to me that my community has found itself to have been marked by the practice of hospitality, because for years I have taken seriously the Catholic Worker suggestion that every house ought to have a “Christ room,” for welcoming strangers, and a “Parish House of Hospitality” for embodying this practice on a congregational level.
Here is an Excerpt from Catholic Worker Co-founder Peter Maurin’s easy essay entitled “Parish Houses:”
“Today we need Houses of Hospitality
As much as they needed them then,
If not more so.
We have Parish Houses for the priest,
Parish Houses for educational purposes,
Parish Houses for recreational purposes,
But no Parish Houses of Hospitality.
Bousset says that the poor
Are the first children of the Church,
So the poor should come first.
People with homes should
Have a room for hospitality
So as to give shelter
to the needy members
of the parish.
The remaining needy members
of the parish should be given shelter
in a Parish Home.”
There you have it… it’s that simple. It’s what we ought to do, let’s do it.
But it’s not all that simple, is it? The poor, our neighbors, the children of the Church… they are not so easy to welcome into our homes.
Our homes are our castles. Our own places of retreat, relaxation, withdrawal from the daunting work of the world. Often, we don’t even want to open the doors of those castles to our spouses, or our children, or our friends… much less to a perfect stranger who is unlikely to wash their hands, understand social dynamics, or put the toilet seat down.
“The poor should come first. People with homes should have a room for hospitality…”? You’ve got to be kidding me, Peter.
The reality of embodying this “simple instruction” reminds me of a story that occurs in Mark’s account of the gospel, where Jesus utters one of the coolest sounding phrases in all of scripture, “Ephphatha.” We don’t have words like that in English. It’s such a gutteral word. It’s as if it comes right out of the earth. Right out of the ground.
It’s from a story where Jesus encounters a deaf and mute man, and walks away from the crowd with this man, and then puts his fingers in his ears, spits and touches the man’s tongue, looks up to heaven, sighs and says, “Ephphatha,” which means, Be opened. Immediately, the text says, the man’s ears were opened, and he began to speak plainly.
It’s a healing story. The deaf and mute man encounters Jesus and he is made well. His ears are opened, and he begins to speak plainly.
Peter Maurin thinks it’s simple… “The poor are the first children of the Church, so the poor should come first. People with homes should have a room for hospitality.” But I don’t hear it.
We’re something like 100,000 units of affordable housing short in the Denver metro area. People are sleeping outside, people are sleeping in their cars, people are doubling up and sleeping on their friend’s couches, people are sleeping in hotels, some people are spending more than ½ their income just to stay in a place of their own, and they are one or two sick days away from losing it all. But I don’t hear it.
The insulated walls of my castle keep me safe and secure from all of that noise. The safety and security of empire keeps my tongue tied.
“Ephphatha.” Be opened. It’s a healing story.
May we find ourselves opening our homes and our hearts to that healing, and may we find ourselves to be living in a radically liberated community re-oriented from the “Royal Consciousness” towards the “Alternative religion of the freedom of God.”