Is Hospitality More Important Than Love?

So many songs have been written about ‘love is all we need’, in the name of world peace. But what if we took a different tack? What if, instead of trying to love (or hate) everyone, we simply tried to be hospitable?

Hospitality is about making others feel comfortable and cared for. It’s about creating a space where people can relax and be themselves. And while it may not always be easy, it is always worth the effort.

The Catholic writer and pastoral theologian, Henri j. Nouwen proposed a way of thinking about hospitality that I think is more helpful than ‘love’, with all its different meanings and connotations. He said that true hospitality is not about offering food and drink to strangers, but about making them feel at home.

Here’s what he said.

  • Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
  •  Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. 
  • It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. 
  • It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
  •  It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.
  •  It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way.
  •  The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
  • Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own. 

Henri NouwenReaching Out: The Three Movements in the Spiritual Life. (1975 Doubleday. New York) (p 68)

In our fast-paced, individualistic society, it can be easy to forget the importance of hospitality. We may not have time for long conversations or meals with friends and family, let alone strangers. But if we take a cue from Nouwen, we can see that hospitality is not about changing others or imposing our own beliefs on them. It’s about giving them the space to be themselves, and the freedom to choose their own path.

The producers of the video knew that. They created space for pairs, who they knew would want to share their thoughts and feelings about the war in Ukraine, and for them to say whatever they wanted to each other. Despite initial awkwardness, the space that was created enabled them to dive deep into their experiences.

What Nouwen is saying, I think, is that when we offer hospitality, we create an opportunity for change. Change in ourselves, and change in the world around us. When we open our hearts and homes to others, we open up the possibility for transformation. And that is a beautiful thing.

We see it in the film. After awkward starts and tentative probings, the sharing creates deep bonds of affection that will live on as hope, appreciation and encouragement.

So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the state of the world, take a step back and focus on being hospitable. You may not be able to change the world, but you can certainly make it a more welcoming place for all. You may be surprised at the difference it makes.

What do you think? Is hospitality more important than love? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “Is Hospitality More Important Than Love?

  1. Great articulation of what hospitality is. I’m not sure why we need to choose which one of the two (hospitality or love) is better. I would imagine that hospitality requires some form of love and love is the foundation of hospitality. What motivation would there be to act hospitably if there is no element of love – however that is defined?

  2. A great reflection, Geoff. More and more, I come to understand that what we call ‘church’ is so often not the ‘safe’ space people need in order to relax into being with God. The closer we can come to creating safe and hospitable spaces the closer we might come to the heart of God. I was listening to someone speak the other day and they exhorted us to remember that ‘we’ are made in the image of God. Not ‘me’ or ‘you’ but ‘we’. The image of God is safe, hospitable community. Cheers!

    1. Totally agree Steve. What I’m grappling with is an image Sandy passed on to me of Donald Trump having his feet washed, Jesus-style, by a coloured slave. I know how we rationalise about loving the person, not necessarily what they do. But…is the word ‘love’ now so meaningless with all its baggage? Is the way forward to recover Abrahamic unconditional hospitality a la Nouwen, which matters not whether you love or hate someone?

    2. What I’m grappling with is an image Sandy passed on to me of Donald Trump having his feet washed, Jesus-style, by a coloured slave. I know how we rationalise about loving the person, not necessarily what they do. But…is the word ‘love’ now so meaningless with all its baggage? Is the way forward to recover Abrahamic unconditional hospitality a la Nouwen, which matters not whether you love or hate someone?

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