The next few posts are about living well in groups. They are a series of meditations inspired by a chapter in the New Testament. It is Pauls first letter to the Corinthians chapter 12. I begin with verse 7, which in the New International Version of the Bible says,
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
That is, we each have something to contribute, and the good of the group relies on the individual contributing their own particular ‘fragment of spirit’. Put another way, individual flourishing and health has a social dimension.
In some places people are able to relax and be themselves. These are nice places to be. In other places people are expected to adhere to rigid expectations, to pretend to be something they are not, or to pretend that some parts of themselves don’t exist (the rebellious, sexual or emotional parts for instance). These are not so nice places to be. If I were to choose one word to describe those places that are nice to be I would choose ‘hospitality’.
When people are welcomed then they can bring their own ‘fragment of spirit’. When people aren’t squeezed by rigid expectations then they can manifest the gift they have. Which requires openness from those in the group. And where this isn’t the case then the common life goes bad – often enough full of authority conflicts, dullness and blandness (at best. Lonely misery or real suffering is all common too).
Hospitality means having time for the other.
- Being willing to set aside an everyday task to spend time with someone: not on mutually beneficial labour, but simply spending time with them.
- Hospitality has a mutuality – but not one of strict accounting – it is more free flowing than that.
- It deals with humble and domestic things, making a hot drink or chatting; rather than the grand. It is a virtue that finds its place in the domestic and at the decidedly human scale.
- Hospitality has its routine elements (an offer to be seated, an enquiry about thirst or general health or what has been happening), it also has room for the others individuality (their preferred kind of drink for instance).
- At its deepest hospitality can mean welcoming the others most precious thoughts, feelings and beliefs; offering them a place where they can be all of who they are.
Making the world a better place means increasing the number of groups and places that are truly hospitable.
Take a moment to reflect on times and places where you have felt truly welcomed. What would it be like to live much of your life feeling welcomed? What is one simple and pleasurable thing you can do to welcome someone today?