On Monday evening I went to a talk about fostering faith within the family. The speaker, a professor from Boston College suggested two elements which should be part of a faith-nurturing spirituality. She said we should cultivate gratitude and hospitality. I didn’t think much about hospitality until after my mother died, eleven years ago.
It seems to me that as I was growing up, hospitality, in the sense in which the speaker wanted to consider it, wasn’t something I experienced very much: it wasn’t behavior that was “modeled” for me to use current jargon. Of course, my parents would socialize with friends, visiting them and being visited by them on Friday evenings for drinks and snacks and games of bridge or just sitting around. When I was little we would occasionally stay for several days at my paternal grandfather’s home, a couple of hours’ drive from ours. Visits to and from my maternal grandmother, who lived 15 minutes away, were more frequent. And there would be gatherings of the extended family every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. But I don’t recall any welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless in person. Doubtless, the folks made contributions to charities; as an adult I knew it, but it wasn’t something that I can recall hearing about as a child. But we lived in a middle-class suburb with no visible poverty, so occasions for direct works of hospitality didn’t really exist.
After my mother died, my brother’s and I connected or reconnected with two sets of cousins: a cousin and her family in Colorado, and two cousins of my mother and their progeny on Prince Edward Island.
The family in Colorado consisted of my cousin, her husband, their three children, and his mother. When my brother and I visited, the sons were kicked out of their bedroom so we could have it. One used the room of his absent sister, and the other slept on the living room couch. There was no thought of our staying in a nearby motel, or with neighbors who had a spare room or two.
Similarly, on PEI, we (my two brothers, sister-in-law, nephew, and I) arrived at a time when a number of our second cousins from off island were also visiting. My older brother and I were assigned a room in the “patriarch’s” (a first cousin of my mother) home, with other relatives staying in the finished basement. My other brother and his family were put up in a second cousin’s home. On other visits, a second cousin, Marian, had me stay in her home. When the last of my mother’s first cousins died, Marian was at her brother Eddie’s home, looking in on his sons, while Eddie and his wife were away. When she called me from there and I said I’d come for the funeral, Eddie’s college age son Noah immediately said, “Joe can stay here.”
Beyond the hospitality to me and my brothers, during my visits I also witnessed other acts of generosity: Marian caring for her sisters’ children as needed, extended family members getting together for canning projects. As at home, there wasn’t visible poverty to be directly alleviated, but there was a clear feeling of community and an attitude of generosity.
These experiences have shown me that I grew up in a way that allowed me to be more self-centered. I didn’t learn hospitality as a way of life that was lived daily and taken for granted. It is something I need to train myself into. I don’t know if I’ll ever have either the occasion or the generosity to let someone who needs a place to live to stay in one of the spare bedrooms in my house, but I hope I’ll be able to muster at least enough generosity to be counted among the sheep when the King returns and the nations are gathered before him.