Radical Hospitality in the Woods
Today’s post is by Crystal Corman
It is easiest for me to connect with God when surrounded by nature’s beauty. I try to take in God’s gifts through the sights, smells, and sounds of the mountains, trees, or river. But most days of the year, I live in the middle of a city, surrounded by concrete, traffic exhaust, and the noise of urban living. This summer, I was surprisingly blessed with the opportunity to escape the urban jungle for an adventure in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.
This was my first trip to the Wild Goose Festival and my first trip to North Carolina. With the theme of “Living Liberation,” I anticipated inspiring speakers and artists. While I did witness some amazing presenters, musicians, and performers, my most memorable experience was an atmosphere of hospitality that infused the air.
Hospitality is a beautiful spiritual gift that is too often condensed to “coffee hour” at churches. During my time as staff at a campus ministry in Lincoln, NE, we used a Benedictine book called Radical Hospitality to encourage us in our ministry (Paraclete Press, 2011). This small book spoke of simple acts of kindness that seem radical in a world where we are taught to be suspicious of others out of self-protection or privacy. As someone who did not grow up in a city (I’m a farm girl), I find that the longer I live in the city, the less I look people in the eyes when navigating around others in pursuit of my end destination.
The campgrounds at Wild Goose felt like another world as people greeted each other warmly, paused to listen to questions, and seemed open to an encounter with anyone and everyone at the festival. It was as if people’s hearts were open to the fact that they would meet Jesus in each person they passed or met. I slowly felt my defenses soften, opening myself to be truly present and seek to see the image of God in those around me.
The first evening I had dinner at the campgrounds, I bought food from a vendor and grabbed an open spot at a picnic bench nearby. I had sat across from a man and young woman in the middle of a conversation. Soon, they pulled me into their conversation and commenced introductions. We sat and chatted about why we came to Wild Goose, then they shared stories from previous years. From this simple invitation at a common table, I felt welcomed and “oriented” to the community of Wild Goose in a deep, meaningful way. I saw these two persons repeatedly throughout the festival, and their generosity further inspired me to open my heart to God’s presence.
This is only one example of many encounters at Wild Goose this summer, but this abundant hospitality that seemed to organically flow made a quick and lasting impression. Perhaps this type of openness should be expected at a festival calling people to come with an “open heart… a willingness to meet respectfully across lines of difference, to share wisdom and listen to each other’s stories.” But I needed this breath of fresh air to remind me that hospitality is a display of love that transforms more than the receiver; it also transforms the giver. As I returned to my life in Washington, DC, I can offer hospitality inside my church – and outside in my everyday life – in ways that may seem radical to the world but are fully in line with Jesus’ teachings and God’s abundant love.
Crystal Corman is a member of the YALLI class of 2015. She is also Program Manager at World Faiths Development Dialogue and a member of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC. She earned a Masters of Theological Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary and also has an MA in international peace and conflict resolution. You can follow Crystal on Twitter.
Want to support Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative? Consider sponsoring runner Ed Poling in November’s JFK 50-mile marathon.