Thursday, March 31, 2011

From Hostility to Hospitality

Saturday evening I attended a Fine Arts offering at the Great hall of Saint John's Abbey. As I was standing at the coat rack, Matthew, an SJU student wearing a student manager name tag, asked me how I liked the performance. We chatted, and then I asked him how he liked the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University. He responded enthusiastically. When asked what he liked about it, he said, "Everyone is so friendly."

"What makes it like that?" I asked.

He unhesitatingly responded, "Hospitality!"

Needless to say, I was very impressed by the friendliness and hospitality Matthew himself offered, in such a natural way. It was more than "Minnesota nice." It seemed to be a value he has integrated into his life at a young age.

I've been thinking about this for the last few days and find myself filled with a great hope that his experience will lead him to bring that same open hospitality wherever he goes. In his book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, author Henry Nouwen names the movements of the spiritual life: from loneliness to solitude; from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer.

Perhaps it's my Benedictine gene, but I have always been especially intrigued by the second of these movements: from hostility to hospitality. It seems to me that our world is marked by a kind of individual, corporate, civic global hostility towards what might be labeled the enemy. When our general perspective makes the other into an enemy, and our general perspective is one of hostility, what can we do but arm ourselves in defense? Nouwen explores this in the nitty-gritty of our daily lives and calls upon us to "dis-arm" ourselves of the weapons of destruction that we inflict on our families, our co-workers, our communities and our leaders. These are the weapons of mistrust, injustice, abuse, labeling and the deadly weapon of the silent treatment.

In a famous story about a meeting between a monk and a warrior, the unarmed monk confronts the powerful warrior who stands in front of his army about to wipe out the village. The monk asks the warrior to leave in peace. The warrior responds, "How can you stand alone before me, with no weapons, no defense and ask me to leave? Don't you know that I have the power to run this sword right thought you?" "Yes," replies the simple monk. "But I am the one who has the power to let you run the sword through me." The monk is strong in his inner peace and trust in God and totally disarms the warrior as no weapon could. As the story goes, the warrior and his army leave the village.

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