How to give an “extravagant welcome” to others

Henri Nouwen was the Dutch Catholic priest best known for his concept of “the wounded healer” – the understanding that our most effective giftedness in ministry is found in our own wounded and scarred life experiences. But he also maintained that hospitality is central to our practice of Christian discipleship. This is how he put it:

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. . . . The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”

That’s a contradiction to what we usually expect from hospitality, isn’t it? We want something in return. We invite someone over, and sooner or later we want an invitation from them. Right? We do something nice for them, and we expect something nice in return. Reciprocity is part of the deal.

But that’s not what Nouwen was saying. Christian hospitality is not transactional. It is an art, but it is not a “deal.” It is a gift. Without strings. It is a non-fearful open space wherein guests are free to discover their own selves, their own gifts, their own callings.

Read Rev. Marvin Marsh’s full sermon from June 9, 2024, here.