Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Spirit of Hospitality

 Of the values we committed to when starting out in our current adventure in community life, I think the 'spirit of hospitality' was, at least in my mind the one that was the most vague. I agreed it was important and I thought I knew why, but I don't think I had any idea what it might look like in practice.

"Hospitality is a core value of our community and a spirit of welcome is integral to our life together. Our community is not a closed group concerned only with itself and our own relationships with one another. Together, we look outwards. Our home will be a place where others are made welcome."

In one sense, I'm still not really sure what it looks like. Hospitality is not one of the parts of our routine that fits easily into a definition or a timetable. But it has turned out to be a hugely significant part of what we do. Sharing our table with lots of different people has proved both life-giving and tiring; and often both at the same time.

On Christmas eve, we welcomed into our home our one hundredth different visitor; and since then, we have continued to add to the rich tapestry of people who have walked through the door. Some, of course, have been friends we have known for a long time: being back in England and in a very central location has helped us be ideally placed for reconnecting with people we know well. But many others are witnesses to new connections and friendships which are beginning to grow out of what we are trying to do here. 

There has already been some evidence of the wisdom of the person who said to me in the summer, before all this began, that whatever else we did, we would find that, even without seeking it, we were committing to a "ministry of listening". I hope that, beyond providing a decent cup of tea and some (if I do say so myself) quite nice food, it is true that we are creating a safe space, a space where honesty can speak and someone is at least trying to really listen.

The lived community itself may still be very small and have space available for new members to join, but I am starting to realise that maybe there is a level of community which we are setting out to create here that is perhaps already beginning to thrive.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Those Epiphany Moments

I know, Epiphany has been and gone. If I was organised, I'd have had this ready to post on Monday: but I'm not and it wasn't. But hey, better late than never.

I think it is very easy for the feast of Epiphany to get forgotten or sidelined, remembered merely as the end of a period of celebration. It is marked by taking down the Christmas decorations and that "back to school" feeling: and for me this year it was indeed both of these things.

But while Epiphany does mark the end of Christmas: it also deserves both recognition and celebration as a festival in its own right. I think its message is an important one which I don't want to be reduced to putting the three kings in the stable for half a day before it gets packed away for another year. 

This year, reading the story of the visit of the Magi, I was particularly struck by the words "They returned to their country by another route" (Matthew 2:12) At first, the Magi sought the new king in the palace, in the place of power: but he was not to be found. Instead he was found in a very ordinary but, at least from the Magi's world view, very unexpected place. 

Once they came and saw, once they stopped and encountered, the God who was found in this place, their lives were transformed: they poured out their finest gifts and, more significantly, they could not go back the way they had come: the encounter was one of "conversion" of turning around and setting out on a different route.

When widening the reflection to the other key moments once associated with this festival (the birth, the baptism, the wedding at Cana) a common theme emerges: the encounter with God leaves no option to just carry on with life as it was before. 

Epiphany is the celebration of God's revelation (-phania = showing), but it seems that this is no one-sided feast day when we marvel at God making his identity visible to humanity: embedded within the stories is a very human response. Is the Epiphany in the showing, or is it actually in the looking? Or, as seems most likely to me, are they so intimately entwined that it would be impossible to separate God’s revelation from our human encounter with it?

It seems to me we have a huge freedom and a huge responsibility for our own epiphany moments: God's revelation becomes real, not in his actions but in the transformation by which we realise we must "return home by another route." It seems Epiphany may be a time to be challenged as well as to celebrate.