Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
During this Jubilee year of sabbatical we are revisiting our Monk Manifesto by moving slowly through the Monk in the World retreat materials together every Sunday. Each week will offer new reflections on the theme and every six weeks will introduce a new principle.
Principle Two: I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.
A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, ‘My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.’ So they said, ‘Do as you have said.’ And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.’ Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’
When we first meet Abraham & Sarah, they are known as Abram & Sarai. They are Semitic nomads from near the ancient city of Ur. They receive a call from God to travel west to a new land, where by virtue of their relationship with this God, they will be the foundation for a great nation.
It’s a great leap of faith for the couple to trust this new God’s promises. And yet, they go. Abram takes just not his wife, but their flocks and servants and Abram’s nephew, Lot. Abram & Sarai have many adventures, both in getting to and living in the “Promised Land.” It is years before God finally makes a formal covenant with them, where they are renamed Abraham & Sarah and God promises to give them so many decedents as to be near impossible to count.
Only it has been several years, Abraham & Sarah are still childless at 99 and 89 (respectively). Sarah, understandably grows impatient and takes matters into her own hands. She asks Abraham to take her handmaiden, Hagar, as a concubine to serve as a surrogate mother. Abraham agrees and Ishmael is born. Unfortunately, marital tension also entered the family at this point and Abraham & Sarah are anything but kind to the new mother and child.
Oddly enough, it is at one of the lowest points in the personal journeys of Abraham & Sarah that God reappears to once again offer promise and blessing to the couple who so recently proved less than worthy. But when the three strangers (angels in disguise) visit Abraham & Sarah, it is an opportunity of redemption.
Abraham & Sarah go out of their way to offer hospitality to the strangers. They insist that the three stay with them. There is a frantic pass to the narrative where Abraham & Sarah hurry about preparing an impromptu banquet for the three strangers. This is the foundation of our faith at their best: sacrificing their time and treasure for the benefit of others, without expectation of reward.
And yet, they are rewarded. These messengers from heaven not only renew God’s promise to Abraham & Sarah, but give a specific time line: Sarah will have a child in a year’s time. (At 89, Sarah can’t help but laugh out loud at the notion of getting pregnant and giving birth at her advanced years. This is why her son is named Isaac, or Laughter.)
Christine and I have not been blessed with children. But we have been blessed with family. In particular, our parents cared and nurtured us. We grew up in loving, if at times strict homes. Our parents made sure we received excellent educations and supported us along our way to adulthood. And when they died, tragically young, we both inherited enough money to afford a good home of our own.
I don’t say this to brag, in large part because I know we were fortunate. We moved to Seattle before the housing price boom and left just as it started taking off. And even though our parents died too young, they left us a bit of the financial rewards of their life’s work.
We are extremely grateful for our home and so wish to share the blessing of its space with others. And so, our apartment in Galway (affectionately names ‘An Nead’ – Irish for ‘The Nest’) has become host to pilgrims and friends. Our Galway-based pilgrimages meet in our living room most evenings for the week to share reflections and insights with one another. Our kitchen/dining room has held many a dinner party for friends. Game nights and evenings with friends have burst over onto our terrace. Our home has also been a make-shift rehearsal space for many a theatrical production and a film set on more than one occasion.
As much of an introvert as I am, loving most to curl up on the couch in the evening with my wife and dog, some of my fondest memories over the past year or so has been watching pilgrims, artists, and friends mingle and play and relax in our home.
With great and growing love,
John Valters Paintner, MTS