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Light Notes: Welcome strangers as acts of radical hospitality

Timothy J. Ledbetter, Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.) on

Published in Religious News

Welcome!

You’ve seen such signs on paper, carved in wood, and flashing in neon.

What a warm, inviting word, usually ending in an exclamation point rather than a period. When spoken, the body gesture is usually arms extended forward, palms up, the facial expression a smile. The eyes seem kind as they focus on those being greeted.

Turning your chair toward the one knocking on your office door then arising to shake their hand. Standing on your porch as guests arrive for dinner. Standing before an audience or congregation as they are seated and turning their attention toward the speaker. (We have to believe these social examples will happen again the more we practice the anti-viral triad of mask, wash and distance!)

I’ll leave it to you to do the etymology or word study (Hint: It’s really interesting!).

Briefly, to welcome is to extend hospitality and invite one in as a “desired guest.” Reach out, bring in. Body language and spoken word meshed seamlessly conveys the fact that someone is glad you are there. You are wanted, you matter, your presence makes a difference.

I mean, even if "faked" in the moment, it generally feels good to be welcomed. I don’t know if anyone has measured the autoimmune processes when someone is welcomed, but I’ll bet some feel-good chemicals are released to positively stimulate the recipient’s body.

Every major religious tradition endorses, urges or even commands the practice of welcoming. In my own tradition, the Holy Bible certainly speaks frequently of welcoming and being welcomed. Not just family, friends and neighbors, but strangers are to be welcomed as acts of radical hospitality.

 

Sometimes it may seem foolish or may even be dangerous to welcome or be hospitable because to do so creates vulnerability. When someone new enters the scene or situation, it can’t help but change things. When that change, that addition, is welcomed then it is hoped or assumed to be for the good.

But change always involves some amount of risk. No wonder cautions or even prohibitions against welcoming are erected — they are called walls — and their gates allow for controlled welcoming, so to speak. Such physical and nonphysical walls and gates imply or state “not welcome”: Keep out, go away, don’t come back. You ... IN, but not YOU.

The old saying “good walls make good neighbors” may build a false sense of security and privilege. I’m not sure walls contribute to the common good, the “commonwealth,” of being humane, hospitable, welcoming people and communities and nations such that all God’s children — including us — are welcome.

A wall of fear is like cold water on a warming welcoming campfire. Fear is the thorny weed growing where soft green grass is parched and downtrodden. Fear sucks the oxygen out of souls and ideas and relationships.

But to welcome and be welcomed — “your presence is desired” — THAT goes a long way to establishing or restoring what is good and true and beautiful about God’s gift of life for one and all.

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