The reason we know, and feel a great yearning, to open our hearts to others is because God opens his heart to us. In The Deeply Formed Life: Five Transformative Values To Root Us In The Way Of Jesus, Richard Villadas describes hospitality as an act of holiness. Novelist and theologian Frederick Beuchner furthers this description with his phrase: 'The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger met.'
My deep and hungry humanness, as held in humankind, is an inherent magnetic-repulsion of discontent and contentment, unhappiness and peace. Where the mind and body searches for small comfort, companionship and belonging. The longing to belong is often disguised by loneliness, anxiety, insecurity, estrangement, depersonalisation, inferiority, insomnia, pride. Belonging feeds the soul. But harnessing a sense of belonging is something that we can initiate and build, when we choose to humble ourselves, listen deeply, reflect on and become immersed in the environment and people around us. We find belonging when we respond to the sadness, the joy, the energy and the needs (whether voiced or quietly observed) of those around us. We find belonging when we make others feel welcome and safe.
As a third-culture kid, I live between various places of "belonging", from the UK to the US. I rebuilt "home" many times by moving away from and returning to North Carolina, Florida, Aberdeen, Dundee, Oxford and now, London. Maybe you understand this? Maybe you have cross continents or moved from city to city? Maybe you've transferred schools, or simply moved from one friend group to another? Moved from one church to another?
Moving is a visceral and demanding experience, isn't it? I don't know about you, but my mind always feel a little detached whenever I move. Almost cloud-like in the way my processing methods adjust, desperately searching for a patch of space with little wind where it can hold onto old securities. The best way I can describe the moving process is to ask you to imagine an earthquake. Consider the moment and aftermath when seismic energy has shaken the ground and caused a sudden rift to occur. Stress changes in the earth, as the dictionary describes it. Although the stress emanates from deep within the earth, it bruises the external landscape. Vice versa, the changed external landscape curves and cuts at the root-identity of above-ground foundations. Aspects of moving ---- the transition, new faces, new names, new work cultures and responsibilities --- all these things chafe like tectonic plates and crease my organised memories and methods for coping with new information. The upheaval shoves old memories and fears to the surface and create rifts in my capacity to collect and retain new details. Whenever I move to a new country, city or state, I feel that I am walking on terrain that has been marred by an earthquake. I move gently, quietly, but the landscape has so many odd curvatures and dips that I don't know how to expect. Reading Buchner's quote speaks to me because it reminds me of moving. In moving, my deepest hunger arises. I want to belong. But belonging is a two-sided coin; one on side, belonging is the desire to feel physically safe and secure. To understand the natural surroundings, and how we fit into it. This side of the coin is physiological. On the other side of the coin is the desire to feel nurtured. To understand the social surroundings, and how we fit into this. Which makes sense according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs: the physiological must be meet before one can move up the hierarchy to pursue cognitive growth, stimulation and love. The reality is------belonging may have two sides, but it is a single coin. We realise the fragility of our humanness when natural, unexpected disasters and physical diagnoses riddle our lives. We realise the delicacy of our social connectedness when misunderstandings occur or work furloughs your relationships. We recognise our littleness when faced with the act of re-securing the things in our life that we believed were, and would always be, secure.
When I moved to London a couple months ago, many of the house-shares that I was meant to move into (plan A, plan B, plan C, etc) unravelled. One morning I woke up crying because I wasn't sure where I would sleep. Because of the stress, I lost my peripheral vision and found it difficult to retain details at work. I moved from couch to couch. But Buchner's declaration is beautiful and rung true. "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." My deep gladness during this time met my deep hunger of wanting to feel safe and welcome. New friends heard about my predicament and invited me to stay with them; their individual compassion met both sides of my physiological and cognitive need. Their compassion and hospitality reminded me of Christ, Son of God, who was and still considered to be the most hospitable human to walk on earth. He made people feel welcome in his presence. In Mathew 8, Jesus told the people - "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (v20). Because of his ministry, Jesus was constantly on the move. However, he created space to welcome and connect with people. No matter where he was, Jesus chose to look beyond his lack to meet the physiological and cognitive needs of people. He healed them, body and soul (Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5 & 7). In Matthew 9, Jesus went to the house of a man named Matthew. What I love about this visit is the hospitality shown by both Matthew and Jesus. Where Matthew opened his home, Jesus opened his heart.
Jesus' posture toward people was a posture of welcome - "You belong here," "It is good that you are here." He made them feel safe and welcome even when he had no home of his own.
Moving from home to home over the last couple of months was difficult. But my prayer was that the Holy Spirit would give me the composure, grace and presence of Christ - to be hospitable and generous with what I had to give, whether this be my words, my time or my vulnerability (the last one is the most difficult for me). Even now, as I settle into a beautiful new apartment in the centre of London, I choose to believe that the months of instability have taught me how to demonstrate hospitality in every circumstance. I pray that it is my presence, more than the place I present, that exudes God's deep and gentle love.
My friends, I pray this for you too.