I’ve been reading a lot of Henri Nouwen lately. He’s one of my favorite Christian writers and I find his observations and meditations so moving, encouraging, and thought-provoking. Here’s one I read last night:
A Friendly Emptiness
“When we have become sensitive to the painful contours of our hostility we can start identifying the lines of its opposite movement toward which we are called to move: hospitality. The German word for hospitality is gastfreundschaft which means “friendship for the guest.” The Dutch use the word gastvrijheid which means “the freedom of the guest.” Although this might reflect that the Dutch people find freedom more important than friendship, it definitively shows that hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone.
“Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories, and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into a criteria of happiness, but the opening of opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own…
“To convert hostility to hospitality requires the creation of the friendly empty space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to a new relationship. This conversion is an inner event that cannot be manipulated but must develop from within. Just as we cannot force a plant to grow but can take away the weeks and stones which prevent its development, so we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place.”
From Reaching Out by Henri J. M Nouwen