Welcoming The Stranger
“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. . . Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:13, 21, NIV).
I was looking for a good devotional last year over Christmas and found a hidden gem in a used bookstore. It’s called You Are The Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, a compilation of Henri Nouwen’s writings by Gabrielle Earnshaw (Convergent Books, 2017).
Nouwen has some timely words for us in today’s context of fearing the “other” and building walls. In order to welcome others in our midst—the stranger, the refugee, the enemy, or even the difficult co-worker—we must first welcome ourselves. Nouwen says, in the June 28th meditation, “No guest will ever feel welcome when the host is not at home in his own house.” So above all we must accept and believe that we are beloved by God. That comes first! Then we can be welcoming to ourselves—to love ourselves, to see and accept our shortcomings and failures and take all of these to Jesus. As parents, citizens, spouses, friends, and co-workers, we can’t be perfect, so we must learn to be kind and gentle with ourselves.
But just how do we practice this kind of hospitality on ourselves? First, we must be still and sit with God. This is hard to do in our age of social media, distractions, and busyness. I don’t like to sit still; I’d rather be doing something or getting something done. But we must be quiet and hear those words that God gave to Jesus; the same words that God speaks over us at our baptism: “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” We are God’s beloved children and, in the words of the character Papa, from The Shack, “God is especially fond of us.” Take some time each day to be quiet with God and let that wondrous truth sink in.
Next, in order to practice true hospitality, we must welcome change. That’s hard for us in the West to do today because we think we know it all and the ego is pretty stubborn. In the meditation for June 27th, Nouwen tells a story from his book, Aging, about the great artist Rembrandt who made 63 self-portraits of himself over his lifetime. This seems excessive and somewhat egotistical, yet this was not a self-centered preoccupation or some prideful endeavor. Instead, Rembrandt wanted to get to the essence and core of who he was, so he painted and repainted himself over and over. We too must be willing to allow the Spirit to shape us and remake us over and over again like a refining fire so that we can be the people God created us to be. Nouwen puts it this way: “We will never be able to really care if we are not willing to paint and repaint constantly our self-portrait” (June 27th).
So once we befriend our failures and shortcomings, we open ourselves to God’s work in our lives, and can then reach out to others in our midst—welcoming the stranger in true hospitality.
Closing Prayer: “Help me, O Lord to let my old self die, to let me die to the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thoughts can become a hymn of praise to you. I need your loving grace on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self to a new life in and for you. I know and trust this is the road to freedom . . . Amen” (June 30th’s entry, from Nouwen’s A Cry for Mercy).
Matthew Bowles is a husband, and a dad to two children and one cat. He is a hospice chaplain in Memphis, Tennessee, where he does life with his Catholic and United Methodist God-families. In his spare time, he loves to read, run, play guitar, and watch college basketball.