I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Beth Booram‘s reflections about the spiritual practice of hospitality:
Hospitality and Hugs
I was hugging someone goodbye recently when she commented, “Oooh, you’re a good hugger. Thank you!” Her comment seemed genuine and encouraged me because of my awareness that this “good hug” was given with intention. It’s part of what it means for me to offer hospitality. Ever since my husband, David, and I moved into our retreat center and home and began welcoming guests, we’ve been students of how best to receive them into sacred and nourishing space. Our approach has developed over time as we’ve learned and experimented. Almost always, unless a guest conveys otherwise, our hospitality includes a warm and hearty hug.
Friends, family and retreatants who come to us often make the comment, even as they step through the front door, that they feel peace—shalom—upon entering. We hear them speak of how their lives are chaotic and disordered, including the space in which they live. Many parents come for day or overnight retreats just to get away from the constant commotion of children. Pastors and ministry leaders express gratefulness to have a quiet and serene place to tuck into and disconnect from the demands of ministry. And many guests take the time to tell us how soothing it is to be enveloped by an environment that is calm, peaceful, beautiful and well-ordered.
I feel tremendous joy when I hear affirmations like these. A good part of my daily work as a spiritual director, writer and retreat facilitator employs my mind, mouth and ears. In preparing our space to be hospitable, I use my hands to scrub, cook, create and set in place. It’s all for the purpose of preparing a haven of rest and safety for those who come; who need to find respite from their pressure-filled lives and cluttered homes.
When David and I moved from our suburban home into this urban home that houses Sustainable Faith Indy, we began to develop a number of consistent practices to set the table for our guests to feel welcomed. First off, we made sure that our aesthetics were serene and minimal. In our first floor public space where small groups and teams gather, we carefully chose soothing paint colors and well-placed but scant decorations. In our guest rooms, we did the same. A simple Celtic cross hangs on the wall with modest furnishings including a comfortable bed, chair and desk.
Never before have we been as consistent in maintaining a clean home that is in good working order as we are now. We experience this manual labor as part of our sacred work, formation and growth. When I cook and clean, I’m often aware that I’m doing so for someone who will need to be nourished by it. David, as well, would tell you that he’s grown in his own responsibility and thoughtfulness as he changes furnace filters each month and shovels snow off the walk. We are happy—really happy—to put our hands to the task of welcoming our visitors with great care.
When guests arrive they will notice quiet, contemplative music echoing throughout the entry and stairway toward the second and third floors. It’s music that was also chosen very intentionally. Whether Gregorian Chants, classical instrumental music or a beautiful film score, our hope is that each person will feel calmed and quieted by what they hear. Once visitors are welcomed, a cup of hot tea or coffee is offered, as well as a pass by the buffet in the dining room where fresh fruit, nuts and chocolate abound.
Beyond the physical labor to prepare the space there is important work to be done behind the scenes in our own souls. When our guests remark that our place is “full of something” that helps them rest and feel the presence of God, we know that it’s not just the tangible environment. Each morning, David and I enter the day slowly with time to de-clutter our own minds and hearts. How we come to our day and our work, at rest and settled, open and available, is also part of our hospitable intentions. We sense that the prayers we pray linger in us as well as within the walls of our dwelling, offering the Spirit’s presence and peace to those who walk through its front door.
Most recently when guests are arriving or leaving, I’ve felt prompted to give a hug—a good hug—to those who seem comfortable and responsive to one. This physical gesture makes me think of a recent article from the Wall Street Journal that someone showed me. It’s about a growing personal service being offered in cities around our country—cuddling! In this service, you receive up to an hour or even an overnight of cuddles, tickles and snuggling from a professional cuddler—nothing beyond that allowed! (The going rate, by the way, is $80 per hour.) The article confirmed my sense that many people are starved for human touch and connection.
As I live out my calling as a monk in the world, I’m devoted to providing hallowed space and time for individuals and groups to experience healing and repair. I pray that our hospitality and hugs will be for them an entrée into the rest of God and support them in becoming harbingers of Christ’s peace on earth.
Beth Booram is the co-founder and director of Sustainable Faith Indy, an urban retreat center in Indianapolis, where she leads The School of Spiritual Direction and offers individual and group spiritual direction. Beth has authored several books, including her upcoming book called Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-given Dream. (Intervarsity Press, May/2015)