When I read this letter, I couldn't help but think about the connection here to the practice of hospitality. One of the most important and widespread of Christian disciplines, the practice of hospitality is about much more than a clean house, cold drinks, and light conversation about the weather.
Henri Nouwen describes it this way: "At first the word "hospitality" might evoke the image of soft sweet kindness, tea parties, bland conversations and a general atmosphere of coziness. Probably this has its good reasons since in our culture the concept of hospitality has lost much of its power and is often used in circles where we are more prone to expect a watered down piety than a serious search for an authentic Christian spirituality." (Reaching Out, p. 66)
Nouwen defines a Christian approach to hospitality as a movement away from hostility and towards brotherhood. In fact, he says that it "is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced." (Reaching Out, p.66)
Hospitality is, therefore, creating a space where transformation can take place. Too often, however, we fall prey to the temptation to fill this empty space. We are fearful of silence and emptiness. We are uncomfortable just being in the presence of another, so we fill the space with shallow conversations about inconsequential things. Our prayers can be a lot like this. Too often, we ramble on, filling the empty space and thereby choking off any chance of real transformation.
I really believe that Br. Lawrence is calling us to a practice of hospitality. He is calling us to a place where we make room (create a space) for God to enter into our lives on a regular basis. He is calling us to fight the temptation to fill that space, but to allow room for transformation. We must allow room for God to speak, to move, to convict, to teach, to love us. This is what we see in Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha fills the space with busyness (see Luke 10:38-42).
We must also extend this hospitality to ourselves, treating ourselves gently when we fail to meet expectations rather than beating ourselves up over every little fault. We must create space in our life for our own transformation, not filling it constant busyness. We must treat God and ourselves as welcomed guests, allowing our lives to experience the movement from hostility to hospitality.
What has been your experience with hospitality? Have you seen a connection between hospitality and prayer in your own life? (Let us know about it by leaving a comment.)