Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Spiritual Hospitality: Learning from the Lord of Hosts

As co-clerk of NFM's Ministry & Counsel this year, I'm feeling a lot of tenderness and responsibility for the pastoral care of my community. (This is what going to the School of the Spirit's On Being A Spiritual Nurturer program will do for you: Help you step into spiritual responsibility. I'm grateful to have had lessons from some spiritual nurturer heavyweights as I grew into this role.) As co-clerk, and with my husband as clerk of the meeting, I am often the go-to person for needs and feedback. Recently someone shared with me they have found a spiritual home in our meeting but have not found the individuals to be particularly welcoming. I feel a great weight in what they said because I've had that experience in other situations and I try very hard to make everyone feel welcome and included. Unfortunately, I travel on weekends so much of the time that I hadn't seen them in months so I wasn't there to greet them by name. I will be more intentional about what I commit to that takes me away from home.

At our M&C committee meeting Sunday I offered the query "What is spiritual hospitality?" I carried the question with me into worship where I wrestled with it. There are all kinds of people in my communities. Yes, I'm very friendly and attempt to connect with folks I encounter but I have no gift for small talk. How in the world do I welcome into my community people who are very shy, or those with whom I have little in common, or the ones who seem to have a very specific agenda, or the possibly mentally ill, or the individuals who seem to want something-an answer or a response of some kind-that I don't understand, or the just plain weird (in a way at odds to my own weirdness)? How do I connect with each of them? How do I embody the radical inclusion that Jesus modeled when so often my mind is on several things at once and only partly attending to the conversation at hand?

Many years ago, back when I was new to Friends and had just discovered that God was with me and that we'd been in relation all along except I hadn't realized, I'd been having difficulty with a family member and was praying about what to do. This is one of those crazy mystical things that will seem delusional to some but what happened was that I very clearly heard a voice in my ear say "Love her." Wha?! But, yes. And with those words came a sense of, sort of, mission.

That's what I feel with my communities, that I'm called to love each person who makes up the crazyquilt world I live in. But how do I do that when I may not have a clue what to do with them? Or like when I'm busy/tired/distracted/irritated...in other words, most of the time?

Sitting in worship with this, I thought about how often we talk about trying to see "That of God" in others. When W was President, you heard a lot of messages in worship about trying to love him but being unable to find his humanity so trying to see That of God in him. The thing is, though, that we'll never be able to reach That of God in another unless we're first in touch with It in ourselves.

I think the only way I will ever be able to truly minister to my community is if I actively follow the example of Jesus. He prayed a lot. He prayed alone and he prayed with his closest peeps. He was very aware of his need to feel close to God. I have a responsibility to my community to attend to my relationship with God through active spiritual practice. When I get outside myself enough to become aware, to listen and wait, to give thanks and share myself with God, then I feel Christ living in me and working through me. That's when I am able to know That of God within me.  When I ask Christ to work through me as I minister to my community, I don't have to compensate for my shortcomings and worry that I may let someone down because what I'm giving is myself with the added power boost of the Lord of hosts. 
The other element that I'm growing into is the absolute importance of following through. Having the conversation, doing the check-in, holding someone in need, receiving the news are all good in the moment but if I don't follow through (either by doing the work myself or by drawing on the gifts of others in my community) then I have failed. I've never been good at finishing things. I'm creative and spontaneous and in-the-moment and pretty much the opposite of detail oriented. The last couple of years I think God's been nudging me to learn and giving me lots of situations for practice. I was able to go on sabbatical from my job so I can devote more time and energy to my Quaker work (including writing stuff like this). So now I don't have any excuse to not follow through. Having built this life to do the work of the Holy Spirit, I feel the weight of responsibility as a blessing rather than a burden. Serving my community, even with really difficult or potentially painful work, is a tie that binds me closer to God. 

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