Welcome, pilgrim

“Being in a secure, homey, and comfortable environment is pleasant to the body and the emotions. Being on the road is hard on the body but is a state in which the soul can take wings and the spirit can be free.”
Satish Kumar

When a pilgrim sets out on a journey, they become a stranger. Everywhere you travel you are aware that this is not home as you inhabit a new language, experience new food and live among different customs.

Interestingly, ( I think it is, anyway) in Latin there are two different words for two kinds of stranger.

Hostis describes a stranger as seen by a host – a person who comes to the door. Peregrinus describes a stranger as the pilgrim sees things – a person who goes to the door.

And, even more interesting, the words in Latin for host and guest have the same root – hospes – which acknowledges that there is a mysterious exchange going on in all hospitality because every host is a guest somewhere. Giving is part of receiving and vice versa.

Pilgrims and travellers are even now offered a welcome at all Benedictine monasteries because of the parable Jesus tells of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, where Jesus identifies with the hungry, thirsty, poor, imprisoned and sick. Which means any guest, every fellow traveller, any stranger may be Christ and must be received as such and treated accordingly.

I’ve been reflecting on what that might mean for our sense of the quotidian pilgrimage, this daily journey from sleep to waking and back again, from resting to active and back again, with its filling/ emptying, giving/ receiving dynamic.

Despite our postmodern love of achievements, goals and productivity, the aim of the daily pilgrimage is not to reach a particular destination (salvation /promotion /healing/ heaven /bed), nor is it to become a better human being.

The aim of the daily pilgrimage is to move more deeply into the very life of God.

This is the invitation of divine hospitality, which each encounter, each exchange, each moment can be the door we knock upon, the door which opens to us and within us.

Everything is invitational. By the very nature of love, Love cannot force, coerce or frighten us into a loving response. Love can woo. Love can coax and entice, but a freely given yes is the only yes worth having, the only yes that opens the way to the intimacy of relationship.

So the question is:

” will you…come in and sit down with the One who is hosting the party? Will you accept the divine hospitality and join the dance with God and the other guests?”

thomas keating

If you find yourself reluctant to give your yes, or unable to be free in your yes, what is it that frightens you? What is it that you do not want to let go of or are not ready to surrender?

What might need to happen for you to move toward yes?

The Prompts

In light of all that, you might like to spend some time with this short gospel passage and see what word or phrase catches your attention.

Then Jesus said to the man who had invited him:
When you give a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends and family and relatives and rich neighbours. If you do, they will invite you in return, and you will be paid back. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. They cannot pay you back. But God will bless you and reward you when his people rise from death.

Luke 14:12-14

I wonder if you have this kind of approach to hospitality, where you give a dinner and then, if all goes well, you receive an invitation back? The poor cannot pay back in kind. What does it mean to be paid back when it comes to hospitality?

The Practices

Walk this way…

The poem below offers both a path and a practice. You might find one of these stanzas more challenging than the others, in which case this might be the practice to focus on. How fixed are your opinions? How does that serve you or others?

How conditional is your kindness or your trust? How competitive your conversation? How impatient are you for results?

As you dwell with the poem, look for ways that your life invites you to take the path the poem offers.

Open the Heart to All
We hold no fixed opinions.
Our Hearts are therefore open
to the hearts of all.

We extend kindness to the kind
and unkind alike.
Thus kindness becomes our very nature.

We extend trust to the trustworthy
and untrustworthy alike.
Thus trust becomes our very nature.

We don't contend with people
by seeking to gain advantage.
People around us lose their edge
and we become loving friends
to the whole world.


Divine Hospitality

The trinity is the essence of reciprocity – the divine outpouring of love which flows joyfully and creatively in each moment and eternally. The holy dance of hospitality where each is pouring out as guest and simultaneously receiving into the heart as host.

Veiled in the icon are three levels of chalices: the wings of the angels each form a chalice overflowing with the face and radiance of each holy stranger; in the middle of the image, the chalice on the table, sacred with mundane and ordinary use; at their feet sits the bowl of humility, the foundation of hospitality, for to love and serve the invisible God, we are called to love and serve our visible neighbour.

Spend some time with the icon, and let it lead you into conversation with God, and contemplation.

Holy Acceptance as Radical Hospitality

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

When we are afraid or ashamed many of us tend to isolate ourselves and deny our need for others. We think this will keep us safe, and that this is what we need most. But what we need most is connection, acceptance and belonging. Acceptance makes the world feel safer.

Even a small act of acceptance can contribute to the transformation of our world.

  • Practice acceptance each time you catch yourself in a critical thought or judgement of self or others.
  • Practice acceptance by choosing to engage with the stranger standing with you at the bus stop.
  • practice acceptance of others by adopting Jesus’ look of love that he gave the rich young man who asked how he might gain eternal life.
  • practice acceptance of yourself by seeing yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you and remember what they treasure about you.
  • practice acceptance by observing yourself with compassion so you can recognise and step out of old patterns of relating. See if any of these look familiar: “There are people who idealise others as a way of solacing themselves, and others who keep you on a treadmill, auditioning for their approval, but always seem to keep the approval strangely in reserve. And there are people who seem to always be in crisis, needing you to continually reassure them.” ~ Merle Shain.

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