Saturday, 7 February 2015

The priviledge of being made welcome

Both before the event and after, I mentioned to numerous people that I was spending new year in Prague, which generally elicited various comments about the beauty of the city or the price of the beer. Not drinking beer, that part held little appeal, but it is true that the historic centre is attractive and interesting.

But this isn't about sharing some holiday snaps of beautiful central Europe, nor even stories of the glimpses into its interesting history.

Since my first Taize European meeting, in Paris, in 2002/3, this has been how I have spent the end and beginning of most years. I can imagine no better way and am facing the idea of hitting the upper age limit with some trepidation.

.Sometimes our accommodation has been on cold hall floors. But most times we have been welcomed into the homes of people living in or near the host city. This year, once again, we were warmly welcomed by someone willing to open their doors to complete strangers and, for a few days at least, share something of their life with us. Our host gave up her own bedroom to welcome three of us into her home, sharing her children's bedroom for the duration of our stay.

This has become so much part of my year, that I wonder whether I always give credit to what a privilege it is to have stayed in the homes of families across so many European cities. To see not just their beautiful and historic sites, but to be given a glimpse into the reality of their lives.

We did see the the Karlosmost over the river, the astronomic clock, the Infant of Prague. In other places too we have seen some of the sites listed in various tourist guide books. But the real privilege of these stays is to see something different: to see inside ordinary homes, to share cups of tea or celebration meals, to talk about the simple realities of everyday life, about education and church and work and traffic and ...

Many of our holidays involve a reliance on hospitality, and we are grateful to friends and family who invite us in and with whom we share good food, good conversation, good company. But there is also something different in this adventure of meeting people you don't already know and being invited into their lives. In the experience of the simple trust that enables people to open up this space, the home, the place that is our own, without knowing who will walk through the door. In this discovery of a shared common ground in which, sometimes without even a shared language, there are things we can communicate with one another.

So thank you. Thank you to all those who have dared to offer this gift of hospitality to us and to others. Thank you for your openness, your generosity, your inspiration, your lives. Thank you for all we have received from those who offer what they have, to strangers who knock on their door. Thank you for the reminder about the gift of welcoming others.

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2