Hospitality: Of Pests and Guests

Hospitality is the fundamental virtue of the soil. It makes room. It shares. It neutralizes poisons. And so it heals. This is what the soil teaches: If you want to be remembered, give yourself away. ~ William Bryant Logan, Source: Dirt: the Ecstatic Skin of the Earth

So ends a week of surprising visits from pests and guests, which has led me to contemplate the practice of hospitality and its inherent reliance upon both giving and receiving.

I suspect when the energy between host and visitor is balanced, the visitor is more likely to be perceived as guest; when the exchange is energetically imbalanced, perhaps the visit becomes an experience more endured than welcomed…At any rate, I’m struggling with the impulse to label visitors as pests or guests; to paraphrase the quote from Logan, hospitality involves making room for whatever healing is needed; it necessitates giving oneself away, not withholding generosity based on judgments that rank the worthiness of one’s guest by considering some “pests.”

But, to clarify: my initially perceived pests included a virus that has benefitted from the warm winter and damp spring, using them as a fortuitous springboard to attack my irises, whose lovely leaves are spotted and rotting. I’ve cleaned and cut and thinned. I’ve destroyed what plague I could isolate and must now await the healing or demise that may follow.

Another pest shut down my computer quite suddenly this week when I’d hoped to spend fruitful days writing. Ominous messages appeared and before I could even react, my computer, more sentient and capable than I’d known, turned itself off. I was not hospitable to this detour and delay. I wrote what I could with a pen and notebook, then surrendered, my hand cramped and my outlook cloudy. To be honest, I enjoyed a few days of peaceful reading and stillness with the 4-leggeds, until the computer responded to Phillip’s tinkering.

The third pestilence is one that will continue to spread and infect our spirits through the upcoming state recall elections and probably through the presidential election next November. It is the canvassing and unwanted visitations to our e-mail, phones, and doorbell by earnest campaigners. I went out canvassing door-to-door myself, so can hardly fault others for acting to support their own political candidates, but it feels, already, like too much of a muchness. And to be perfectly honest: I have never been persuaded by a phone call, ad, or face-to-face encounter to vote any differently than I’d already determined I would. The urge to disconnect, turn off, tune out, and unplug grows.

But then I would not have the blessings of guests I also enjoyed this week. The loveliest was a visit from a friend with whom I share conversations so intense and deep I need to retreat to stillness and sleep for a day or two so all the meaning can settle, begin to synthesize, and slowly clarify the perceptions that have been altered and better ordered by our time together.

Many paths have led to my passion for hospitality. I have prayed, studied, and entered into friendships with Franciscans and Benedictines, members of two religious orders that value and earnestly tend their vowed commitment to hospitality.

I have worked as a professional and volunteer in both hospitals and hospices, organizations whose names link them to the ancient and healing bond between host and guest—in theory, if not always, ironically, in their environments or the manner in which their services are offered.

The daily round has brought many guests to our door over the years and most have shared their gratitude for our attempted hospitality, saying they feel comfortable, peaceful, and nourished in body and spirit, a testament to the land and environment surrounding Full Moon as well.

These encounters in life that drench it in such profound sweetness and gift make me wonder if I’m missing something when I label other encounters as undesirable and pest-ridden. I wonder what gifts I’m missing in my willingness to close the door to my spirit. After all, Logan says, “If you want to be remembered, give yourself away.’’ No hospitality, no healing on either side of an encounter?

I’m beginning to understand what hospitality means for me: it is the welcome embrace, the open assent to relationship with life in whatever form it presents itself. Hospitality is a posture one assumes; it draws equally upon strength and vulnerability. It creates a necessary portal, enabling our passage to the place where, in relationship, our regeneration and creativity can be stimulated and nourished, our songs can be heard and brought back into tune and resonance with our spirits, and our hearts unburdened and refilled with hope.

Both host and guest create whatever hospitality exists, and in its truest and purest form it can involve such intense engagement, such energetic connection and transference of energy, that it can leave one both energized and depleted, which are natural responses to transformation. A loving sexual relationship offers this; so does a loving spiritual relationship, a friendship, an encounter with one’s sense of the Holy through a stranger, or experiences with other forms of life and nature.

I am changed and new; I am overwhelmed and energized with gift. There is much to do; but first, I must sleep…incubating gifts…healing.

Gratitude is a lovely light to shine on one’s life; I think, though, that hospitality is what makes it possible.

My friend drove off yesterday afternoon. I walked among the gardens, weeding a bit, mothering the irises, admiring colors and turning, over and over, the words my friend and I had shared, planting new perspectives and perceptions, uncertain of their necessary gestation time, but confident they will bloom—created as they were in the garden of mutual and healing hospitality.

A stranger called and asked me to vote for his candidate. I opened my heart to his need to ask, his courage to try, his reaching for support. I shared that I didn’t agree with his choice but sympathized with the time and effort he was offering to make it known. We laughed together.

Even “no” can come from a place of hospitality. We are all, each of us, host and guest, creating our healing, or not, in relationship.

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10 thoughts on “Hospitality: Of Pests and Guests

  1. Thank You Catherine for this graceful sharing…
    As a sometimes guest amongst your garden here, I must say..
    You’ve always been an honorable host.
    Radiant Spring Blessings..
    Akasa
    P.S. I loved your photo sharings! 🙂

  2. “Hospitality is a posture one assumes; it draws equally upon strength and vulnerability. It creates a necessary portal, enabling our passage to the place where, in relationship, our regeneration and creativity can be stimulated and nourished, our songs can be heard and brought back into tune and resonance with our spirits, and our hearts unburdened and refilled with hope.” What a beautiful thought, Catherine, so eloquently expressed. I’m guessing that many of us struggle with both the blessing and the imposition of hospitality, and somehow find a balance that both protects us and helps us extend ourselves.

  3. Hi Catherine. This is a post that I saw about a half a year ago, when you first posted it. How time rushes by. I put it aside, to comment on it later… and lost track of it… and here it is, and I have re-found it as I straighten out my virtual desk, in my efforts to prepare myself for the new year… and finally have an opportunity to tell you that I enjoyed the post, and enjoyed the images. I can identify with your dilemma, as to the question of whether to call these uninvited guests, guests or pests. I admire your tendency not to rush to judgment. But I do think that when we call a place ‘ours’ there is a need for judgment… and if we truly have trouble judging, there will be a series of tests until we will be forced to defend ourselves. I am reminded of a story I learned once about our father Abraham, who was famous for the way he opened four doors in his tent to welcome every passer by… but in his heart, he did value the guests differently… Thank you for this beautiful post.

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