Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward. -Matthew 10:40-42
My life has been a series of interruptions. Big interruptions knocking me off course permanantly. Little interruptions swarming like knats over projects and deadlines. And yet, even while cursing and swatting, I wonder if I'm missing something with my negative attitude. Today's text reminds me that the knocking on my door, the ring of my cellphone, the endless emails might disclose something of the work (or play) of the Holy Spirit. Interruptions can shock me out of my deepening grooves of complacency.
I'm not aware of any prophets or any particularly rightous folk or even Galilean fishermen among these interruptions. But give them a cup of cold water for heaven's sake and get on with it.
In this week's retreat, Margaret Guenther (meditation one) reminds her readers what it is like to entertain angels unawares. Sara Miles (meditation two) describes how hospitality to strangers breaks open the reality of God. Joan Chittister (meditation three) urges the continual practice of opening our hearts, “so that the God of the unexpected can come in.”
May your interruptions prove fruitful, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) entertaining angels unawares
My meanderings through the dictionary, a favorite activity during attacks of procrastination, have taught me about the complex and unsentimental nature of our care for the stranger: the words “Host,” “guest,” “hostile”, “hostage,” “Hospital,” and “hospitality” all spring from the same Latin root hostis,* meaning stranger or enemy. To extend hospitality means widening the circle temporarily, perhaps taking a risk. Our generosity may be rejected, and we certainly dare not hope for thanks or reimbursement. To offer hospitality is an obligation. There is nothing soft or mushy about it. It has nothing to do with artificial standards of behavior.
The unnamed author of the letter to the Hebrews knew this: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2). This word of advice can be comforting or alarming, depending on where we are, spiritually and geographically, at any given moment. It is hard for me to believe that I might be entertaining an angel when the volunteer for the local public television station interrupts me at the dinner hour with a phone call requesting money, or when the supermarket clerk refuses to make eye contact and leaves me feeling that I have intruded on her space. But many times we might be entertaining angels when we are too busy to notice. These hospitality angels, like the Holy Spirit, can be very subtle. Of course sometimes they are hard to miss, but all too often we just pass them by. … ...When I lived in New York and rode the subway daily, I would entertain myself by speculating: Who are the angels? What am I missing? Recalling the story in Genesis where Jacob, sleeping in the desert with a stone for a pillow, looked up and saw the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending, I would occasionally look up the grimy stairs to the street and ask myself, Which ones are the angels? Surely there must be one or two in that motley crowd. I never knew for sure. -Margaret Guenther At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us
* [ hospes or hostis ? A reader writes in that "Host",” “guest,” “Hospital,” and “hospitality” all spring from the same Latin root hospes, meaning friend, guest, or visitor.]
(from To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)
“You can pet him, Mister Arthur, he's asleep. You couldn't if he was awake, though, he wouldn't let you...” I found myself explaining. “Go ahead.”
Boo's hand hovered over Jem's head.
“Go on, sir, he's asleep.”
His hand came down lightly on Jem's hair.
I was beginning to learn his body English. His hand tightened over mine and he indicated that he wanted to leave.
I led him to the front porch where his uneasy steps halted. He was still holding my hand and gave no sign of letting me go.
“Will you take me home?”
He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.
I put my foot on the top step and stopped. I would lead him through our house, but I would never lead him home.
“Mister Arthur, bend your arm down here, like that. That's right, sir.”
I slipped my hand into the crook of his arm.
He had to stoop a little to accommodate me, but if Miss Stephanie Crawford was watching from her upstairs window, she would see Arthur Radley escorting me down the sidewalk as any gentleman would do.
We came to the street light on the corner, and I wondered how many times Dill had stood there hugging the fat pole, watching, waiting, hoping. I wondered how many times Jem and I had made this journey, but I entered the Radley front gate for the second time in my life. Boo and I walked up the steps to his porch. His fingers found the front doorknob. He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him. I never saw him again.
Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing and it made me sad.
-Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird
Communion of the Apostles, Albrecht Altdorfer, 1516
Meditation Two (insight) all people are one body What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely. It [Christianity] proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn't promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God's.
I tried not to hold a grudge against the bitchy African woman we'd caught stealing or the drunk guy I'd screamed at. I nodded icily at the man who'd spat “faggot” at one of our volunteers, instead of bouncing him. I tried to hold on to the idea of hospitality to strangers, even the ones who threw trash on our doorstep or insulted Michael or whined that the produce was no good … there were times when all I could remember was Robert, at the restaurant, in his dirty whites, shaking his head over the customers. “The public,” I'd pronounce to Michael and Wendy and Teddy and Paul, as if I were instructing them in an important verse of Scripture, “the public is a motherfucker.”
-Sara Miles Take This Bread: The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first century Christian
Meditation Three (integration) disturb our perfect lives
In this chapter on guests and hospitality, the wholism out of which it emerges is startlingly plain: This is a monastery and guests are to be received. As Christ. “Hospitality is one form of worship,” the rabbis wrote. Benedictine spirituality takes this tendency seriously. The welcome at the door is not only loving - a telephone operator at a jail can do that. It is total, as well. Both the community and the abbot receive the guest. The message to the stranger is clear. Come right in and disturb our perfect lives. You are the Christ for us today. …
… Benedict wants us to let down the barriers of our hearts so that this generation does not miss accompanying the innocent to Calvary as the last one did. Benedict wants us to let down the barriers of our souls so that the God of the unexpected can come in. -Joan Chittister OSB The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages
The Last Word In India, Ram Dass writes, "When people meet and part they often say, 'Namaste,' which means: I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides; I honor the place in you of love, of light, of truth, of peace. I honor the place within you where if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us....'Namaste.'"
-Joan Chittister OSB quoting Ram Dass The Rule of Benedict:Insight for the Ages
Entertaining to My Angels
I am beginning to believe my guardian angels (I seem to need several) try to redeem in every moment my tragedies, mistakes, and pratfalls. As if, when I fall, they confer together: “Okay, *sigh* there she goes again... let's see what good we can draw from this latest fiasco …” So far, good has come out of every bad event, some which would not have happened without the bad. Not that I believe the bad happened on purpose. (For example, no benevolent or demonic Being hurt my children just to make some other good come out of their injuries and hospitalizations.) But moment to moment, redemption opens to whatever happens in that moment and the moments to follow.
The bad choices I make also get redeemed. I've made terrible mistakes in my life. Some 'good' came from all of them, eventually. None of those 'goods' however, ennobles the foolishness of my mistakes.
It is a sin to regret. It's okay to look at regrets and learn from them, so that I don't make those particular mistakes again. I can learn from my mistakes and help others not to make similar ones. But sometimes I can regret in ways so paralyzing, I reject the present, the principles of redemption, and the artistry of angels making a feast out of the hash of my life.
I can only hope that I'm entertaining to my angels. -Suzanne