I usually post photos or poems but today seemed like it was time to share something else. Two weeks ago I presented a Homily or Sermon on hospitality at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley. The stories I put together and the insights I came across about what it takes to be really hospitable and to welcome those who are different seem appropriate and important to share for today the 15th anniversary of 9-11
Radical Hospitality, The Journey of The Heart: What’s Next?
Sermon by Carol Carlisle, UUCB, August 28, 2016
Here’s a summary of the Children’s story that began the service
Belle comes to a big door of a castle after being by wolves She is welcomed with an open heart by candlestick and tea-pot, dust mop. and culturally. They swirl and dance, then break into song and finally pour out heaps of beautiful food for her. They had been waiting with no one to serve not because it was the rule because it was who they were Belle comes in and feels welcomed safe and is willing to stay in the Beast’s castle because of their hospitality So much so finally the beast magically becomes human.
“Radical means “out of the ordinary,” “revolutionary,” even. So what would it mean to receive someone—a stranger—with a presence that was not just polite, but to receive them with revolutionary generosity? from Marilyn Sewell’s Sermon Radical Hospitality.”
“Listen with the ear of your heart,” St. Benedict.
The theme for August has been Travelers. We have traveled to far away countries as well as visited the inner world of the Spirit. We end this series finding our way home with Hospitality.
For the last four years my husband Jim and I have been hosting language students in our home. They are mostly young adults and they come from countries around the world. I’m always amazed by the courage it has taken to get on a plane, often for the first time, and trust that someone will be there,
welcoming and kind.
This summer I got to experience the other side of the hospitality equation.
We had made plans to meet our daughter Jessie in Guanajuato, Mexico. It began with one of those long travel days—car, plane, plane, car, then walk day, with a lot of waiting in between. Did I say walk after miles by local taxi, which took us up and down harrowing curving roads and through tunnels. We stopped at the end of a cobblestone street, where our bags where kindly but firmly placed on the curb and the driver pointed: “Hostelria!” Oh, we walk from here, I gathered.
Dragging our bags what seemed like miles past brightly lit, elaborate towering churches and partying teens, we bravely asked directions by pointing and awkwardly saying “Donde
Hostelria Frayle?” We got more points but big smiles and I understood the word “bandeleras”—ah, flags!—and a young man pointed to the left and said right in his brave but equally awkward attempt at English. I understood and we soon spotted three waving flags. The owner greeted us at the door. It’s 10 pm Mexican time, and we have been traveling for 14 hours. As soon as we said who we were he welcomed us—“Ah, Jessie’s parents!”
She had been there the day before to make the reservation. He tried to carry all our bags at once and led us up the most daunting but beautiful spiral stairs. We got to the room and he called attention to the king-sized bed with pride. No bed had ever looked so wonderful.
We felt welcome, comforted, at home. I wonder, is this how the Czech couple felt arriving at our door…
after dragging their big bags from North Berkeley BART to our house on Albany hill? They were our second students and an email had gotten lost, so I didn’t know the time they would arrive and they didn’t have the directions to the house. Worried, I watched at the window all afternoon. I was relieved when I heard a commotion on the front steps. Without hesitation I opened the door before they knocked. “Carol?” yes, “Veronica?” yes. Please come in! There is a room for you—you are welcomed in our home. There before me was a pair of very tall young people with smiling faces, undaunted by their cross- town adventure. They were on their honeymoon, had never been on a plane, and coming to San Francisco was a fulfillment of a life-long dream. Their joy became our joy. We saw what we take for granted every day through new eyes of wonder. Look—views of the Golden Gate! Beaches, fog, hills. We shared meals and stories. Her English was excellent so she was able to show us the intricate details of a Czech wedding. It was such a good visit for them. I still get emails and photos. I’ve watched their family grow as if it were mine.
By opening the door that day my world got bigger
Sometimes what happens on the threshold can be fraught. Who knows who’s on the other side of the door.
Sometimes I’m concerned that the students find their way; Sometimes I’ve become anxious about what kind of people they are.I must confess, no matter what, stereotypes creep into my brain. Brazilian male: macho and bossy, I assume;
Asian girl: passive; young person: irresponsible.
I’m a UU! I affirm the worth and dignity of all people, I say to myself.
Sometimes I still feel a little nag of discomfort before a new person arrives. I wonder if someone will be awful, rude, disruptive or not like us . . . add your favorite insecurity here. Fear of the stranger is normal. Written into our DNA, I suspect.
That door way—dealing with meeting a new person, greeting a new person at church, meeting a new teacher—is a challenge that needs to be recognized and named. That fear is normal, but we can over come it.
I read once that “Fear is in the Mind, Courage is in the Heart.”
Everywhere we went in Mexico we saw pictures of hearts—the “corazon”—and the people were warm and hospitable. On the highway coming into Guanajuato, there was a big, strange human heart sculpture with tubes, arteries or “heart strings” trailing behind. Every time we passed it, the taxi driver or bus driver would point and say with a big smile, Corazon! Corazon! Heart!
My question is, how do we grow such a big heart to become a welcoming presence in the world? We do some hard work.
Not all our students were easy, warm, and have stayed in contact with us. The one that proved the most challenging was a Muslim man from Turkey who arrived during Ramadan. He couldn’t eat until after sunset (and this was summer), and had very specific food requirements, which we were willing to accommodate. That was not the problem. He had lived on a farm out in the country and never been in a city and never around western women at all. His way of relating to me seemed bossy and rude and dismissive. “Assume good intentions” became my mantra. I’m sure he was as uncomfortable with me as I was with him.
Perhaps hospitality becomes radical when it takes a village to make some people feel welcomed. Our next-door neighbors are Muslim and practice Iftar, the meal after Ramadan fasting. Part of their practice is to feed everyone who comes to their house. So they were glad to share the evening meal with him and even take him to prayers. Also, Jim stepped in, taking on most of the responsibility for hosting Kahlil and he left us on good terms. But when he came for a return visit it was to the neighbors’ house. They welcomed him with an open heart and asked nothing in return. “It is what we do,” they explained.
Oh, that willing heart. To serve as the Dishes in Beauty and the Beast.
Having a heart means we are human, with all its twists, turns, knots and strings that can be pulled, broken and mended.
How does welcoming the stranger, facing what’s on the other side of the door, become a spiritual practice? I’ve heard that what people want most of all is to be heard and recognized.
I was a greeter at the door of UUCB the Sunday after 9/11. It was a quiet foggy day. I watched as people arrived through the clouds, tears streaming down their faces. I had planned to go in after the last person arrived. That didn’t happen—more just kept coming. Finally a young man approached me saying he was from the Conrta Costa Times and was doing a story on how churches were responding to this tragedy. I just let him look around and LISTEN to the sermon for a while (he wouldn’t go in to the sanctuary). Then I asked him how he was affected by the fall of the twin towers. I listened as he explained he had family and friends in New York City and was really worried. We never made it all the way into the service. We sat in silence side by side on the fountain as Barbara read a heartfelt poem. The young man’s cares and concern floated up into the sanctuary of our trees. He came back and brought his partner; they stayed here until work took them elsewhere. We listen each other into wholeness with the ears of our heart.
How about we look at the journey of hospitality from welcoming strangers at the door to extending the same heartfelt welcome to everyone who comes within our circle of awareness, from those within the lamplight on the dark cobblestone street, to those we meet in the morning light of a social hall, coffee shop or the people we come across in the cyber world.
I was taking pictures for today’s service last Sunday and I was impressed by the deep conversations I came across…the listening…the nurturing presence people were giving each other. And the playful joy folks shared: “You smell like tomatoes,” a daughter said to a mother. Now that is loving attention in my book!
It takes practice to stand present with another, listening, watching eye to eye, face to face, not looking around checking the time thinking about lunch or wondering when it’s my turn to talk!
Every time I open the door I can repeat “beginners mind, beginners mind.” I know nothing. I say this to rid myself of preconceived notions, to be ready to welcome the Other, the stranger, or the friend with a problem, or the family member ready to share a joy. To be ready for that transformation that may take place. A beast becomes a prince, a stranger becomes a member of the family. May it be so.
Go now and listen one another into wholeness.