The Way of Welcome

A Place for the Prophet © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 8/Ordinary 13/Pentecost +2 (June 26): Matthew 10.40-42

In the neighborhood where I used to live, there was a family a few doors down from me who moved in when their daughter was about two. I would often run into Kyla and her mother when I was out for a walk, meeting them as they slowly strolled, their ginger cat ambling behind. Young Kyla would always greet me as if I were the greatest person in the world and she could hardly believe her astounding good fortune that I had turned up. I saw her do this with other folks, too, so I knew she didn’t reserve her joy just for me. I didn’t mind; I loved receiving her lavish welcome that would be just as enthusiastic the next time around.

I’ve found myself thinking about Kyla as I have pondered Jesus’ words about welcoming in the gospel reading for this Sunday. And as I ponder, I’m wondering what it might look like to fling my arms a little wider toward the world. As I encounter folks in the rhythm of my days, am I leaving anyone with the impression that I think they’re the greatest person on the earth and that I can hardly believe my good fortune that they have turned up?

Jesus’ words remind us that he calls us to be hospitable people not because it’s a nice thing to do—and Christianity depends, after all, on far more than mere niceness—but because it is a holy and whole-making act; it is a sacred art. Welcoming another is a fundamental gesture that encompasses not only the other person but also the God in whose image they were formed and fashioned and whom—though we may sometimes be at pains to perceive it—they somehow reveal in their being.

As I write this, I’m winging my way toward Minnesota for my annual retreat with folks from Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery. A community that draws from both Methodist and Benedictine traditions, our monastery is named for a vibrant and much-loved leader of the early church in Ireland. Like my friend Kyla, Saint Brigid carried her hospitality with her from the time she was a young girl. Extravagant and precocious in her generosity to the point of giving some of her parents’ possessions away (“holy thieving,” as one writer has described it), Brigid grew up to become a woman renowned for the way she welcomed others and sought to restore them to the wholeness that God desired for them. “Every guest is Christ,” Brigid said.

In the coming days of our retreat, I look forward to easing into the welcome that I will find among the community that bears Saint Brigid’s name. In the conversation, in the quiet, in the learning and praying and resting, I will be carrying questions about how Christ might be calling me to extend a welcome to others. How about you? How wide is your welcome these days? Are you finding places of hospitality and rest that help you know what it’s like to receive this gift that lies at the heart of our tradition? How does this help you discern the kind of welcome and holy hospitality that God is calling you to lavish upon others?

Welcoming Blessing

If you say
this blessing
out loud,
it may perhaps
be easier to imagine
how the shape
of this blessing
is really a circle,

easier to see
how these words
hold themselves
like the lip
of the cup,
like the curve
of the bowl,
like the rim
of the plate;
how they compose
like the O of arms
that enclose you
in welcome.

You can try
to leave this blessing,
but it has a habit
of spiraling back

not as if to stalk
or to snare you—
it’s just that
this blessing
has taken a shine
to you

and so it keeps
turning and returning,
following its arc
about you,
spinning itself
toward you

for the simple joy
of seeing your face,
for the unaccountable luck
that you have come
its way.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, visit A Place for the Prophet. And for more about Saint Brigid, see my post Golden, Sparkling Flame: Feast of St. Brigid over at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

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One Response to “The Way of Welcome”

  1. Carolyn Says:

    I LOVE THIS! As one who walks most days and seasons in circles, either widening or deepening, I am enchanted by the idea there might be a blessing hot on my trail, that it has ‘taken a shine to me’ – enjoyable!
    The reverse is thought provoking: who might there be in my path to whom I can offer that kind of unconditional welcome?
    As always, my thanks, Jan. Savor your retreat.

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