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The way of hospitality

by davesandel on January 4th, 2013

The way of hospitality

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

 1 John 3:7

Let no one deceive you.  The person who acts in righteousness is righteous.

The word “righteous” eats at me.  If I speak of my own righteousness I feel arrogant and hypocritical.  When I speak of the righteousness of others, I know I’m looking only at what I can see.  And in the words of Jesus, we “clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).  Not just the Pharisees.  Jesus speaks to the pharisee in every one of us.

Still, I want to seek the way beyond the word.  Before writing Soul Making, Alan Jones traveled around the world.  In his mid-40‘s, he was between jobs: he had been professor of theology at General Theoloogical Seminary and was about to become dean of Episcopal Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Jones writes, “I had been away from home about six weeks when I began to wonder not only whether I was a Christian, but whether I wanted to be one.”

In the Egyptian desert, his faith was restored.  “The desert does strange things to the way one sees.  It plays tricks with the imagination and, at the same time, intensifies and magnifies experiences.  It is easy to see why codes of hospitality are strictly adhered to in this part of the world.  Hospitality is a matter of mutual survival.

“It didn’t take me long to realize what most mattered in all the world.  Heat, dust, and loneliness made me appreciate our need for three simple things: food, shelter, and companionship … Father Jeremiah brought me tea and something to eat.  With a deep laugh he said, ‘Father, we always treat guests as angels – just in case!’

“I could discern no feeling of spiritual superiority or the claim to special privileged knowledge in him.  Being willing to explore the possibility of entertaining angels seemed to me to be both compassionate and perceptive, because it challenges the believer to live in a constant state of expectancy, openness and vulnerability.

“Father Jeremiah presented gifts to me without words or explanations.  They spoke for themselves.  Nor did they demand any response.  Here was a way of believing that was first a way of being and action rather than words.  There were no formulas to repeat, no dogmas to subscribe to.

“Human beings can’t do without formulas and dogma, but these must always be preceded by a way of being that expresses in action and receptivity the heart of what the formulas or dogmas are seeking to communicate.  In the end, faith comes not from indoctrination from the outside, but from the Spirit of God bursting out from inside us.”

Not only do actions speak louder than words, but in our actions the Spirit of God “bursts out from inside us.”  The humility of this “bursting” can be overwhelming.  Father Jeremiah told Alan a story of the desert fathers that preceded him by fifteen hundred years.  A young man asked St. Macarius , “Abba, tell us about being a monk.”  He replied, “Ah, I’m not a monk myself, but I have seen them.”  Father Jeremiah laughed and made up his own version.  “I am not yet a Christian, but I have seen them!”

Seeing such Christians, said Alan Jones, “helps me to believe.”  It is their righteousness that shines through.  Getting there is worth all the work, and all the cutting out of words and falsehood required.  There really is such a thing as righteousness.  It arrives in our lives quietly, without fanfare.  It is God’s gift, a gift which in his hospitality he is always willing to give.

Lord, the rivers clap their hands and the mountains shout with joy.  We fall to our knees before our God.

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