“One of the most challenging tasks of the Christian is to create the space where people can meet each other without fear, share the human pains and joys which transcend their differences and discover each other as belonging to the same human family.” –Henri Nouwen
Al Heggen, retired Lutheran pastor and friend of Holy Wisdom Monastery, recently shared the above quote with me. I was struck by how much this kind of space is needed today. I think of what we do at Holy Wisdom as creating the space where people can meet and be present to themselves, others, nature and the Holy without fear or judgment. The Benedictine word for this is hospitality.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately as I prepare for the retreat led by John Makransky, Paul Knitter and myself in September (Hospitality and Compassion: An Exploration of Tibetan Compassion Practices and Benedictine Hospitality – September 21-23, 2018). There is a quality to Benedictine hospitality that is different from the hospitality industry’s welcome, clean sheets and a mint on the pillow. I can feel safe in a hotel without feeling the personal connection that breaks through my isolation. The quality we need in order to discover that we belong to the same human family is a personal, heart to heart connection. We need to feel safe to open ourselves to this type of connection. So much of what we hear in the news today is about how we are not safe in relationships with anyone but those who are like us.
What helps me feel safe with others is compassion, kindness, empathy, spaciousness and heart-felt listening, honesty, reverence and respect. These qualities create space for the shy, wounded and confused, “unacceptable,” disagreeable, and defensive parts as well as for the passionate, playful, charming and energetic parts of me to emerge. These qualities communicate: “Come as you are.” “I want to know you.” “You are accepted just the way you are.” Those are the same qualities that help others feel safe. So if I can carry them around and give them to myself, I can also give them to others.
Pema Chodron has written: “As we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others — what and whom we can work (and be in community) with, and how — becomes wider.” (When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Shambhala Publications, 2000, p. 110.)
Safe space at the monastery
At the monastery, there is a community to receive the guest and provide a safe space. We seek to cultivate compassion, reverence for persons, heart-felt listening and to provide the space where people can meet themselves and others without fear. We are more or less successful depending on how present we can be at any given time, but we keep coming back to this practice of hospitality because our world needs it so much at this time.