3 May 2011
Hospitality is the act of the recklessly generous heart, says Joan Chittister. In this context, here in Christchurch, we have been submitted to epic proportions of recklessness! But one cannot downplay the devastating consequences of the recent earthquakes, the resulting brokenness, the unbearable grief and sorrow which continue to hang heavy, a weeping cloud over our city.
Yet from the earliest moments of this natural disaster, recklessly generous hearts continue to beat to the needs of others. For hospitality is a gift and, when mutually experienced, both host and guest are called into a new creation, a new chapter of an ancient tradition. They are invited to live to their fullest potential.
From one standpoint, it is the abandonment of self, outreaching to the needs of others regardless of personal beliefs and feelings. From another, it means entrusting our lives and stories to the safe custody of others. Images we all remember speak of a spiritual connection, oneness of heart, the presence of God deeply embedded in human love.
For many who were at the lowest ebb of their lives, (for those who survived and those who perished) there were others close by, linked in spirit, separated only by rubble, enabling and ensuring the dignity of each person, the sacredness of life.
These were all recklessly generous hearts. An enlarged global heart is pumping love amid pain, grief, disorientation and uncertainty. It is as if the ‘aftershock’ has spontaneously ignited a strong surge of the love Jesus spoke about: ‘A new command I give you: love one another, as I have loved you’ (John 13:34-45).
This is a compassionate love which has transformed many so that instead of being passive and silent spectators on the earth’s surface they have become active participants in this time of crisis. In many diverse and creative ways they are responding to human and environmental needs more than anyone could imagine.
The love of neighbour has become paramount. Generosity is not new in our society, but we are seeing unprecedented love and kindness because the heart’s yearning is for love and peace. A friend from Chicago wrote in response to the earthquake, ‘The one advantage of adversity is that it awakens the desire to act neighbour to neighbour’.
Our neighbour, as the gospel reminds us, may be in another town, city, or country, visible or invisible, male or female, old or young, believing or non-believing. As people open their doors, their homes, their resources the parameters of belonging expand because in the reign of God, radical hospitality is unconditional, it has no hierarchy.
It is incredible how all over the city people are sharing and unravelling their stories. Alone, or in communities people are also uniting in prayer. United in faith and from the intimacy of our hearts we stand in the strength of our ancestors and God speaks, ‘When you call me, I will listen. When you look for me you will find me … When you seek me with all your heart you will find me with you’ (Jeremiah 29: 11-14).
When we are stripped of our resources we may ask ourselves ‘What do we have left?’ For some the answer may be humility. In this we are not alone. The reverence and simple act of prayer also symbolises humility, abandoning for a short time our worldliness, our thoughts, our feelings and ego. ‘To ignore the spiritual dimension of our lives would be foolish,’ says Michael Leunig, ‘so powerful is its effect on our lives, so joyous, so mysterious, so frightening.’
When the earth shook, so too did our hearts, orienting love-filled prayers, thoughts and actions towards the wellbeing of others. Private and public realms merged.
Ordinarily, the stranger is encountered in the public realm, says Lucien Richard. ‘Hospitality has to do with the private realm. In the public realm our lives are intertwined with those of strangers. The private realm is characterised by mutuality, reciprocity and intimacy.’
How beautiful it is when hospitality functions as an intersection between the private and public realms. These liminal times of chaos, uncertainty and collapsing structures are also times of revelation, sacrament and the Word of God.
Relationship essential for dignity
This ‘compassionate love’ response to recent events therefore is a deep expression of relationship which remains central to radical hospitality and therefore essential to the dignity of each person.
What will radical hospitality look like when post traumatic stress becomes more evident? How will families and our community cope with increased depression, violence and continued fear?
When the spotlight is removed from some areas of need and many people are left to manage shrinking resources, when hope boundaries diminish for many people and wellness is compromised, what will our radical hospitality look like?
Trauma psychologist Robert Grant has said, ‘I believe our injuries, our losses and our wounds – if they are held properly and supported by others – can take us beyond where we were before.’
So how do we ‘hold and support the injuries, losses and wounds’ of others as the realities of homelessness, dislocation, redundancy and other complexities become apparent?
How can we continue to support unconditionally those who are most vulnerable? How do we get to ‘beyond where we were before’?
Profound and prophetic, Robert Grant’s words can be heard as an invitation to journey towards new depths of spiritual meaning which emerge from the substance, the raw material of our fragile lives, especially right now.
Hidden in these words is Christ incarnate made visible in the rich tapestry of human suffering, vulnerability and powerlessness as well as personal and collective transformation.
Uninhibited, unmediated cries proclaiming desperate need and truth will surely not go unheard, making way for God’s divine presence, God’s transforming, healing grace. For radical hospitality is above all else relational, humanising; it reminds us that we aren’t alone and ensures that the burdens of life may be carried more comfortably with the help of others, rendering the world more hospitable.
We need to discover a spiritual meaning from the reality of our own lives, our own circumstances, our own world, where instead of fear or the concepts of others, glimmers of hope, light and mystery shine from the cracks.
Cathy Harrison is a member of Our Lady of Victories parish, Sockburn, and an educator with long experience of working with the marginalised in Christchurch. This article was first published in the Common Good magazine.
Image: The Crichton Cobbers Club on Fitzgerald Avenue faces demolition after the February 22 quake.