When people say they are attracted to Benedictine spirituality they often cite hospitality as one of the key values that they resonate with. I certainly hope it is true that Benedictines are hospitable to guests, and to one another (!) but as I reflect on it I wonder whether we are as hospitable to God as we are to guests.
It is interesting that the Rule of Benedict never specifically mentions that the monks should treat one another as Christ. Benedict says that guests and the sick are the ones to be accorded special attention. Perhaps it is because the sick and guests are the ones who tend to interrupt our schedules, have special needs, aren’t predictable and can’t be responsible for their actions the way the rest of the monastic community is. The sick and guests are the ones that Benedict says we have to make a special effort to recognize as the presence of God in our midst as they demand our precious time and attention.
So as Benedictines we have taken this principle of hospitality to heart over the centuries. We warmly welcome guests in our midst, we have them share our meals, our prayer, our lives. In the monastery we treat the sick with reverence, treat them with special care and concern and love them deeply even in their diminishment. In other words we take Benedict at face value and treat our people as Christ. But how do we treat God in our midst? Are we as hospitable to God as we are to the sick and guests whom we are supposed to treat as Christ?
Maybe most people are better at this but sometimes I find it easier to make room for guests in my life than God. If someone comes here and needs my time or attention I put it on my calendar, make arrangements and do whatever it takes to care for that persons needs. I don’t blow off a meeting just because I am tired or I don’t particularly want to or have something I’d rather do. I wish I could say the same about the way I treat my time with God. Prayer and lectio and simply being present to God are somehow easier to put off, to take off my “to do” list, to say there is something else I’d rather do. It is easier to postpone or re-schedule or ignore God than the people who want my time or energy.
But of course the reality is also that God is like the guests and the sick of Benedict’s Rule. God has a way of showing up unexpectedly, when you least plan or expect and demandingly interrupts your day. (I suspect God appreciates the old joke: “Want to make God laugh? Tell God your plans.”) God is not like most of the members of the monastic community who are careful to find an appropriate time to talk, who are careful not to intrude on a bad day, who tiptoe around our weaknesses and foibles. God is more like the guest who arrives unexpectedly and unapologetically three hours later than expected after you’ve gone to bed. God can be like the sick in our midst who can be cranky and demanding and seemingly unable to wait patiently for anything.
So perhaps this is a blasphemous portrayal of God, but perhaps it is just a reminder that hospitality is important because it is supposed to change us. Hospitality is really hospitality when it isn’t easy. When we are stretched, put out, forced to go beyond ourselves for another, then we are truly being hospitable. The question then becomes: are we willing to make this kind of room in our lives for God, to go beyond our comfort level, to be made uncomfortable, to recognize that God may demand more of us than we want to give?
God tends to come and interrupt or comfortable, complacent lives because God is asking for the hospitality that will transform us. God will come into our lives, shake them up, heedless of our likes and dislikes, and will turn our world inside out. But the blessing of this sometimes difficult hospitality to God is that God will be a guest who never leaves, who will be with us always. And that is the ultimate gift of hospitality.