In preparing some thoughts on hospitality to share with our Benedictine Women of Madison Board, I came across an article Sister Joanne Kollasch wrote in 1984 for a meeting of the American Benedictine Academy. She includes a quote from a conference by the late Demetrius Dumm, OSB, a monk and Scripture scholar from St. Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA. It sent my thinking about hospitality in a new direction. Here is what Demetrius Dumm said:
In Scripture, the entertaining of guests and the entertaining of strangers is the entertaining of mystery; this is to make room for that which is not known, for that which is potentially threatening for the future, ultimately for God. The greatest stranger is the future. Primary characteristics of anyone with authentic faith is their attitude toward the future. Not because it is so promising but because it is from God. God gives us the future. The trademark of the monastic witness is a positive attitude about the future.
“The greatest stranger is the future.” This is the line that caught my attention. It adds another layer to a Benedictine understanding of hospitality. It also provides an intriguing and life-giving way to think about the future. With all that is happening in the world, some days the future seems quite intimidating. The future is certainly always an unknown mystery.
It hadn’t occurred to me that entertaining the stranger was a practice that opens me to entertain the future, but of course, that is exactly what happens in the biblical stories of entertaining strangers. Abraham and Sarah provide a meal for three guests who come in from the desert one afternoon and Abraham and Sarah’s future opens up with the promise of a son.
Pharaoh’s daughter welcomes the stranger as a Hebrew baby boy when she draws Moses out of the water and decides to raise him. With that act of hospitality the future of the Hebrew people (as well as the Egyptians) changes.
Of course, the ultimate act of receiving a stranger is humanity receiving Jesus as God incarnate. Whenever and wherever people have received him, their lives and futures are changed. In calling forth this act of hospitality God provides the opening for newness, change, challenge and growth in human life.
At the Novice and Director’s Institute that novices Paz Vital, Denise West and I attended in May, each of the novices was asked to make a presentation about their communities. One of the items they were to address was some community plans for the future. As Paz and Denise prepared their presentation, we had a conversation together in the sisters’ community about how we all saw the future. Mary David and Joanne, who have the most experience among us of welcoming the future, talked about how our community has moved into the future through welcoming and listening to others.
They shared their experience of receiving the Lutheran missionaries for seventeen summers, praying with them, eating with them, talking together and sharing life those years. Through this and other experiences, Mary David and Joanne were stretched. Their hearts were changed. This became one of the experiences that led to their openness to welcome women of any Christian denomination into our community making our community the first ecumenical Benedictine women’s community in North America. The Spirit led them into the future through their exercise of hospitality and the monastic practice of conversatio – fidelity to the monastic way of life and openness to change.
Mary David and Joanne told other stories of welcoming immigrants from India, Vietnam, Guatemala, China and welcoming Missionary Benedictine sisters from many countries. Their hospitality went deep, beyond just providing food and shelter. It extended to opening their community living space and their personal lives to these strangers who brought blessings from the Spirit. Through this opening, their future took a turn in ways they could not have foretold when they joined the community fifty and sixty years ago.
When Paz and Denise gave their presentation and spoke about the community’s future, they said, “We don’t know what the future holds for our community, but we know how we will get there:
- Listen and dialogue with people of faith from all different backgrounds
- Maintain a commitment to prayer and excellence in liturgy
- Change with the times and respond to the needs of the world
- Continue to work for justice and a reverence and care for all creation
- Seek help in leadership; we can’t do it alone!”
Joan Chittister, OSB, has written that if we live the present well, we will be prepared for the future. So I am encouraged to renew my practice of hospitality with an openness to what God is doing among our community of communities that will open up a future I don’t have to control because I can trust God will lead us as God has done in the past.