Living Hospitality

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; afterward you may go on your way.”
The men replied, “Very well, do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.” He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then Abraham got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the three men; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.
They asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”
He replied, “There in the tent.”
One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.

-Genesis 18:1-10a

I recently returned from Shalem’s pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, a tiny island off the coast of Scotland. It’s a thin place, where the veil between heaven and earth is thinner than most other places. St. Columba landed there in the year 563 in self-imposed exile from Ireland after being caught up in some political/theological controversy. He founded a monastery there with his fellow monks and it has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.

One of the hallmarks of the Iona Community is hospitality. When we arrived, our bags were transported to the hotel by van while we made our first walk through the little town, past the ruins of the nunnery and up the hill to our home away from home for the next week. The small hotel staff welcomed us warmly, gave us our room keys and helped us to carry our bags up the very narrow steps to our rooms – mine overlooking the water and the Isle of Mull across the way. After our 6 ?-hours-long journey by bus, ferry, bus and ferry again, I took in the view and the lovely room, took a deep breath and felt at home. The people of Iona are hearty and incredibly kind, thoughtful and welcoming. These folks set the tone for the whole of our time there.

This gift of hospitality is revered in all cultures, especially in the Middle Eastern countries where Abraham and Sarah lived. Though Abraham’s generosity to his three visitors was a bit more over-the-top than most folks would have received (Abe was a man of means, after all) it was the norm to offer a meal and a place to sleep to any visitor who happened by. That’s not the case in our culture, of course, but we could certainly take a lesson from nomadic peoples who quite literally depend on one another for their survival as they make their way from one place to another.

The rugged individualism of Western culture has made us self-protective and suspicious of others, especially if they look or behave differently than we do. And we have been impoverished by this lack of connection. When we allow ourselves to be open to the many people who wander through our lives – from the people who knock on our door to the cashier at the local grocery store to the person who crosses our path in the park – we have the opportunity to be changed by the encounter and to experience a view of life we’ve never even thought of before. We don’t have to offer a three-course meal or even spend a great deal of time with them. All we need do is offer a smile, or say “good morning!” or “What a beautiful pair of shoes you’re wearing!”

On Iona I was setting out on a solitary walk when I passed two older local women sitting on a bench. I was taking off my hoodie, realizing it was probably too warm for me to wear, when one of the women said “You’re going to need to put that on with the wind that’s coming up!” I smiled at her and thanked her for the advice. She was right, as I later found out… it was her welcoming of me.

Abraham and Sarah were not aware that they were entertaining angels. They were simply doing what they would do for anyone. And their lives were changed by the encounter.

We are made in relationship with God and the angels from before we were born into this life and will be so beyond this life. It’s this awareness of divine connection that we’ve lost in our culture, and one that is retained in Middle Eastern and, dare I say, Scottish culture as well. We are all connected – with each other and with God – and so we are called, as Abraham and Sarah, to welcome all as angels, as family, as ourselves, because that is, after all, exactly who they are.

Photo by Susan Etherton.

July 07, 2022 by Anita Davidson 1 Comment
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Linda Minner, Spiritual Director, ‘13
Linda Minner, Spiritual Director, ‘13
1 year ago

Anita, thank you. I recently read the Scripture about entertaining angels unaware and was touched just now to read your reflection on Genesis and Iona. Peace of the Lord remain with you.


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