Thursday, November 11, 2010

To Bless and To Be :: The Honing of Hospitality

I can remember with severe clarity many of the first meals I served as a newly married novice in the kitchen. Eager to invite people into our home, to begin the journey of cooking and preparing a meal to share with friends, we hustled them in as couples, as groups, as families and single friends. I can think of undercooked chicken, one pot meals that were barely enough, over-salted chowder, strange orange chicken concoctions, and the list goes on. Then there were the dynamics, the ones that our personalities as a melancholy and introvert were sure only to exacerbate. 

I suppose like anything, the road to hospitality began long before that, growing up in a household with four siblings and a mother who was forever filling our weekends and holidays with the lonely and afflicted, the ones who didn't get invited anywhere because they drooled or talked too much or were just plain weird. We were always encouraged to bring our friends over, no matter how late or how many; ours was an open door, and I know that it must have left a mark on me.

As the years of attempting to share our home and our food and our lives have crept by, I've thought a lot about my weaknesses in this endeavor, and my strengths too. I've struggled with wanting to be an open home, but finding the way to do it without too much fanfare, or too little. 

Perhaps the thing that has helped the most (and is helping me still) is seeing the ways others have done it and admiring the goodness in their ways. Things like my husband's mother, being flexible enough to make dinner for any guest her husband happened to drag in the door unannounced. She made things special, without feeling the need to make them elaborate. She was stuck in a place where access to grocery stores was limited and she made do with what she had, but never made her guests feel the weight of that. She cut toast into hearts, turning humble pie into a gift of grace. I think about that often when I am tempted to feel like I need a spectacular meal, or just the right ingredients, when I know that the most important thing is that they are welcomed in, made to know that in this house they are brought in with gladness.

Then there are the uncomfortable memories of my childhood. Most of this discomfort was a result of my bad attitude, which I now see with regret. And yet I am affected by it... wanting to keep the numbers "just right" so no one feels squished or ignored, or God forbid, uncomfortable. But even that, I've had to learn to let go of a little bit. I want to be thoughtful, and I want my guests to know that they are special and that I have thought about them, but a perfect orchestration of numbers and people does not always guarantee that this will happen. And sometimes a heart too bent on making it just perfect isn't thinking about her guests at all.

Perhaps it is the age of Martha Stewartism that we live in, which makes the gathering of a meal all about beautiful table arrangements and the presentation of gourmet food with impeccable and hard to find ingredients. Or maybe it is the fact that so little of our regular days are spent in honest to goodness meal preparation, that we are left feeling like we need to "up it" when someone comes to dine. At best, there hopefully lurks somewhere a desire to simply bless our guests with an offering of love made tangible by edible food for sustenance and the joy of sharing it together.

I suppose I've begun to see, and to attempt to pursue the fact that the sharing of a meal is an important part of the sharing of a life. This is the essential quality I am after... and the adorning of it with food and atmosphere is an important part, but it is not the center stage. Yet, the meal is an important one to share because it is a gift of grace, and a respite from the day's activities when we can rejoice in the goodness of its provision. The meal is a time for festivity, and festivity with thanks must be one of the great joys of community. I'm reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, Life Together and he brings to light so many simple but not often thought about truths.

The fellowship of the table has a festive quality. It is a constantly recurring reminder in the midst of our everyday work of God's resting after His work, of the Sabbath as the meaning and goal of the week and its toil. Our life is not only travail and labor, it is also refreshment and joy in the goodness of God. We labor, but God nourishes and sustains us... Through our daily meals He is calling us to rejoice, to keep holiday in the midst of our working day. 
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together

When friends gather here, I am grateful for their presence. When strangers come in, I am hopeful for their comfort. When too many arrive, I am amazed at how it can all still be enough. When we feel the lack in our personalities, I pray that food and presence and a sense of welcome will sustain them. And as I present our home, at times with too much ado and at times too poorly, I have received much grace (even forgiveness!) and love from my guests. Hospitality can truly be a means of blessing to us all.

This post is also a part of The View From Here weekly photo challenge. This week's theme, {the days grow short} was about taking natural light indoor shots... aiya.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the encouragement and challenge. You are an added blessing to the Keegan family. Love you!