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Hospitality as a Way of Life

Radical Hospitality, written by a Benedictine monk and laywoman(a mother also) is a treasure chest full of wisdom and encouragement. We have gotten far off track in the West with our individual lives separated from not only our neighbors but also strangers we meet. Father Homan and Lonni Pratt call us back to bringing a hospitable life to bear to everyone we meet. Rather than being a book of how-to's and don't do it this ways, we find a work rich in illustrations and examples of learning hospitality even through our weakness.

The authors begin the first chapter narrowing their glance at what it means to be hospitable. They write, "Hospitality does not focus on the goal of being hospitable. It is not about the offering hospitality. Instead, it is singularly focused on the object of hospitality-the stranger, the guest, the delightful other" (17). Instead of drawing up a list of activities for the guest to do, we find solace in seeking to focus on the one coming to our house or place of refuge. This is not an easy task, considering the fact that many times when guests come to my place I want to show off the things I have or the best meal that I like without regarding their lives, their needs. This kind of thinking turns into a callous heart. Yet, as the authors indicate in chapter 1, hospitality is a risk that we must take, opening our doors to the stranger not knowing what will happen. Yet, this type of serving others is integral to the ministry of Jesus, in which he called people to himself and told his follower to love their enemies (22-23). The authors also indicate that hospitality is at the top of the list at the monastery because people are valued. We generally think of monasteries as citadels of spirituality, cut off from the rest of the world, yet this notion of welcoming the stranger is part and parcel of St. Benedict's rule.

The authors go further in chapter two in describing hospitality as a moral and spiritual issue. They write, "Hospitality is both the answer to modern alienation and a path to deeper spirituality" (43). It is an answer to alienation because being hospitable should know no distinctions between people. Hospitality in its truest sense regards all people as bearers of the divine image and worthy of respect and compassion. The spiritual side cannot really be divorced from the moral dimension. How is this so. The authors carefully see two kinds of hospitality at work in our culture; ships and vacations and entertainment. Yet, both of these kinds of hospitality fail at the point of being costly, laying our lives on the line for other people. I think what this book is communicating here is that to practice hospitality is to down our guards of living fearful lives avoiding others, but showing up in the lives of others willing to let our hearts be bruised for the sake of someone else.

Chapter 3 was the chapter that made its point very clearly to me concerning hospitality. If hospitality is to be a way of life, we must first deal with our fears, sins, and tendencies to hide. We want a comfortable Christianity but radical hospitality calls us to be unsettled, to be uncomfortable for the sake of the other (73). The thought that living a life of hospitality is more about the person you are than the ideas or methods you try on goes to the heart of the issue. To be open to sharing with others is a costly adventure, but one we should be willing to take. The authors however are not trying to make a blanket statement that everyone should be invited regardless of the danger. Yet, they are trying to get us to see that a different way of life is possible if we move outside our cozy comforts.

Overall, I thought this book was an excellent work in calling people to a way of life that is radically different than what we've been taught, even taught in the church. The reason I rated this book a four stars instead of a five is that I thought the authors could use more examples from the Scripture of how hospitality was part and parcel of both Israel's livelihood and Jesus' ministry. However, this book will go a long way in calling God's people to serve others in a way that is foreign to our culture, and our own thinking.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.


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