Ramadan 2009, Day 18: Hospitality …

One of the themes that has emerged for me so far in this month’s fast is hospitality.
To begin with, there’s the beautiful hospitality of the Peace Moms, Eboo Patel, and other Muslim friends who welcomed me – and several other Christians – to be part of their observance of Ramadan.
Then there’s the kind hospitality of fellow Christians who didn’t immediately react in judgment and fear, but made space to consider a new way of approaching “the other.”
On another level, today I was reading the manuscript for an important, beautifully-written, and spiritually moving book called A Gentler God by Doug Frank.
(more after the jump)

It included this poem by the Persian/Sufi* poet Rumi (who lived around the same time as Thomas Aquinas – in the 13th century):
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Rumi’s poetic point, I think, is similar to that of the apostle James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Don’t try to shut trials out of your life, he says, because if you do, you will be shutting out your own maturity, your own completeness, your own wholeness.
I think of the many ways we do this. We are hurt by someone – and we shut them out so we won’t be hurt again. A question disturbs us … so we shut down our mind and lock the door so that question can’t return. A part of us embarrasses or threatens us … so we become ashamed of it and banish it to a closet like a hostage.
How different to believe, with the apostle Paul, that life’s “momentary light afflictions” – if we receive and respond to them in a wise way – can produce “an eternal weight of glory,” or as Rumi says, they “may be clearing you out for some new delight.”
Making space in my life to welcome hunger, thirst, inconvenience … not to mention criticism, insult, and unkindness … or delay, disappointment, and loss … this is a kind of internal hospitality I haven’t been conscious of often enough in my life so far. I hope and pray I will become more so this month.
Of course, the deepest kind of hospitality involves opening the heart to God … not merely to a concept of God but to the living God who transcends all our concepts. Years ago I wrote a song/prayer that tried to capture the idea of inner hospitality to God. We used to sing it at Cedar Ridge. Here are the lyrics (maybe I can record it on garage band and put it up later on):

I open my heart like a window to you, a gentle yet powerful wind.
And through me you bring something new to this world, the kingdom of heaven within.
And it will change the world, inside out,
Giving faith and hope for dread and doubt,
Like a tiny seed, like a candle spark, growing in my heart.
I open my heart like a door to a friend. With a hug and a laugh you come in.
I’m caught up in something that never will end, the kingdom of heaven within.
And it will change the world, one by one,
Like a breeze in spring, like the morning sun,
Like sparkling wine, like yeast in bread, let the kingdom spread.
I open my heart like a mind to a thought that was never conceived of before,
Like something remembered that long was forgot: the kindness of the Lord.
And it will change the world, calming strife,
Teaching peace and love for life.
It’s a dream come true, it’s a hope to grow,
It’s a secret children know.
I soften my heart like clay on a wheel. Your hands hold me firm in the spin.
Your grace is a powerful force I can feel, the kingdom of heaven within.
And it will change the world by a rugged cross,
An empty tomb, a bridge across
Every barrier keeping us apart. I open up my heart.

*Sufism is one of the main streams or traditions of Islam (similar to a denomination, but less structured – perhaps analogous in that way to Pentecostalism). It has strong similarities to the monastic, contemplative, and mystical traditions in Christianity, emphasizing the personal experience of intimacy with God, and favoring the same imagery of bridegroom-bride for the divine-human relationship that has been so meaningful to Christians through the centuries.