As I thought more about this connection to hospitality today, I remembered another passage from Henri Nouwen's book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, that is closely connected to Br. Lawrence's comments about the man who had experienced great loss. True hospitality, Nouwen argues, requires a certain distance, a willingness to offer the guest solitude in order to create that needed space. This solitude is in direct contrast to loneliness, which grabs and holds and demands rather than letting go and offering freedom. Rather than offering much comment on it, I just want to quote a passage from Nouwen's book:
"The movement from hostility to hospitality cannot be thought os without a constant inner connection with the movement from loneliness to solitude. As long as we are lonely, we cannot be hospitable because as lonely people we cannot create free space. Our own need to still our inner cravings of loneliness makes us cling to others instead of creating space for them.
"I vividly remember the story if a student who was invited to stay with a family while studying at a university. After a few weeks he realized how unfree he felt and slowly became aware that he was becoming the victim of the crying loneliness of his hosts. Husband and wife had become strangers to each other and used their guest to satisfy their great need for affection. the hosts clung to the stranger who had entered their house in the hope that he could offer them the love and intimacy that they were unable to give to each other. So the student became entangled in a complex net of unfulfilled needs and desires, and felt caught between the walls of loneliness. He felt the painful tension of having to choose between two lonely partners and was being pulled apart by the cruel question: are you for him or for me? Are you on her side or on mine? He no longer felt free to go and come when he wanted; he found himself gradually unable to concentrate on his studies while at the same time powerless to offer the help his hosts were begging for. He had even lost the inner freedom to leave.
"This story illustrates how difficult it is to create free space for a stranger when there is no solitude in our lives. When we think back to the places where we felt most at home, we quickly see that it was where our hosts gave us the precious freedom to come and go on our own terms and did not claim us for their own needs. Only in a free space can re-creation take place and new life be found. The real host is the one who offers that space where we can listen to our own inner voices and find our own personal way of being human. But to be such a host we have to first of all be at home in our own house." (Reaching Out, p. 101-102)