It is perhaps a sign of our times that we speak of a hospitality ‘industry.’ Rooms-for-the-night and meals away from home can certainly be bought and sold. But hospitality is something no exchange of money will ever effect.
Hospitality is intimately tied with being human both historically and philosophically. We might say that as eating is natural to us so also is offering hospitality in and through eating.
We can discover three wonderful aspects of hospitality in the swineherd Eumaeus’s reception of Odysseus, whom he takes for a stranger.
“Come into the cabin. You’re a wanderer too.
You must eat something, drink some wine, and tell me
where you are from and the hard times you’ve seen.”
“You’re a wanderer too.” We are all wanderers. Sometimes we work so hard to be comfortable in life that we can forget this great paradox of being human. We are wanderers, in some sense never fully at home. But then again, we make homes in and through which we come to understand what a home is, and what it means to be ‘at home.’ In hospitality we have occasion to remind ourselves and our guests of this paradox.
“You must eat something.” People are always hungry, or will be soon. That much we know for sure. In hospitality we have a blessed opportunity to acknowledge this commonality with our guests, and, again, to enter this vulnerability as well as the gift that we are fed, and our needs fulfilled.
“Tell me where you are from and the hard times you’ve seen.” Suffering is a signal and universal feature of human life. In hospitality we recognize this and express our will that no one ever be left alone in that suffering. We cannot avoid suffering; but we can work that people do not suffer alone.
Hospitality, then, both in giving it and receiving it, can teach us who we are, refine our moral dispositions, and draw us together with friends and strangers alike. In this powerful combination, hospitality–especially that offered in the home–is perhaps unique among human activities.
And it is right there for our choosing. This can become again a regular feature of our homes. How salutary for us and all in our household to offer our home as a home to others. The actions themselves might be small, seemingly insignificant, but the reality of hospitality is never insignificant.
I like to remind myself that doing simple, small things can strike a large blow for restoring truly human life. If that is so, then acts of true hospitality will be of incalculable significance.
Menelaus preparing to offer hospitality to Odysseus’ son exclaims, “Could we have made it home again…if other men had never fed us, given us lodging?” Indeed, will any of us ultimately make it home, except that we offer to one another what home we have here? In hospitality. ~ ~ ~
Today’s video is on hospitality, especially to ‘strangers’
Image: Floris van Dyck (Dutch, 1575-1651)
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