Several words are tangled in the etymology of the word, “hospitality.” It is derived from the Latin hospes, giving us the words host, hospice, hospital, hostel, and hotel, and is therefore connected to the specific metonymies of guest, stranger, and welcome, and to images of lodging and respite where one’s needs are met with attentive compassion.
When our bodies serve as disease vectors harboring bacteria, parasites, and viruses capable of killing us, we are scientifically termed “hosts,” despite our inclination to close the door to these specific visitors. Sometimes, closing the door is the intelligent choice.
But, beyond the physical, we offer shelter to the thoughts and feelings that storm or gently cross the threshold of our hearts and spirits. We are the gatekeepers of our response to each encounter, and we must be mindful of our choices, always.
It is human, healthy, proper, and perfectly acceptable to feel fear, anger, sorrow, and despair. It is important to feel the full and sacred spectrum of what it means to be human. We must honor our abilities to recognize loss, our capacity for empathy, our yearning for community. We must mourn our losses, and they are staggering. It is our responsibility to listen to these feelings, to comfort, and to heal them. Over and over.
And it is also our deeply human responsibility to fashion and live out responses that honor our uniquely human capacity for hope, love, and creativity.
This current virus has already begun its horrifying march of destruction through the earth’s people; we do not have to also grant it the power to destroy our humanity, our courage, our impulse to love, our need to connect with and support each other. Rather, let us widen the doors of our hearts to hold this suffering, to look for ways to offer blessing, and to seek the opportunities to create love that meet us every moment, always. Our human longing to offer and receive hospitality bids us to open the door.
My husband and I have a front door that’s always open to guests. Our commitment to our eight 4-leggeds comes with the sacrifice of frequent journeys far from home to vacation and connect with loved ones. Thankfully, friends and family drop in, stop over, and come by with a frequency that hallows our home and keeps the energy merry. We mourn the loss of these other voices, these kindred spirits, these life-giving companions on our journey. As with all of us these days, no one is knocking at the door, no bells are announcing imminent embrace.
The absence of these visitors and its dreadful source are deeply saddening and fearful. We become frozen in moments robbed of hope.
And then, we go for a walk and see the signs of spring, everywhere, telling us the world can heal. We can practice the earth’s hospitality of welcoming life, of nurturing hope, of becoming the safe harbor of love.
This week, a pair of finches has built its nest over the light that welcomes guests to our front door. Already, 5 delicate eggs, each a miracle, are warmed by their mother. Life wins, dear friends. Life always wins. Welcome it. Celebrate its renewal. We must never, ever, close the door of our heart to the possibility of guests–human, winged, feathered, scaled, many or few-legged, dreamt, or imagined–who will entertain us, like angels, with blessing.
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are an Easter people and hallelujah is our song. ~ Pope John Paul II