We are all strangers to each other... a stranger is simply someone you have not engaged with... and a stranger is, most likely more like us than not. Consider that the words “Hospitality” and “Hostility” are both derived from the same root word. Richard Kearney wrote in Religion and Ethics in June, 2012: “Hosting the stranger is not just some abstract virtue, however, but a living existential struggle - a struggle with crucial contemporary implications. The ethos of hospitality is never guaranteed; it is always shadowed by the twin of hostility. In this sense, hosting others - aliens and foreigners - is an on-going task, never a fait accompli.”
Kearney goes on the say “The entire Bible, it could be said, is made up of struggles between two different ways of responding to the alien... The message seems to be this: the divine, as exile, is in each human other who faces us, defenseless and vulnerable, asking to be received into our midst. My hospitable relationship with the stranger, in sum, gives meaning to my relations with all strangers, proximate or distant, human or divine.”
The Christian bible is filled with examples of how to host the stranger, and why it is so important. In fact, hosting the stranger is a central themes in the first three earliest books of the Bible - Job, Ruth, and the Song of Songs. Job challenges Yahweh before finally accepting his strange ways. Ruth is a Moabite alien welcomed by Boas into his home, thereby starting a long line of hybrid descendants including David and Jesus. And the Song of Songs King Solomon takes the foreign “black and beautiful” Shulammite woman as his bride.
In fact, I would argue that the story of Jesus is, in itself, the story of a stranger that dwelt among we humans, then was killed by us. This is the long reach of the archetypical story of the stranger - of the tension between hospitality and hostility writ large. Think of the story of Jesus’ birth. His parents were outcasts, actually refugees, seeking to escape from King Herod’s decree to kill infants where they lived. The baby Jesus, according to Christians, was not only a stranger, but was also a god unbeknownst to his hosts. Echoing a theme present in the writings of nearly all organized religions about the stranger, Omid Safi, the Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, wrote, “The God of the whole cosmos shows up in the humblest of places. This is a theology of cracked spaces, of broken places, and of the healing of God’s presence.”
Buddhism has a long and deep tradition of teachings concerning the stranger. There are many accounts in the narrative literature about how people would interact with Buddhist monks, who always seemed arrive on the scene unexpectedly or at the worst time imaginable. Such stories form the basis for the Buddhist concept of hospitality. Among Indians of all faiths there is a common saying, atithi devo bhavah, which means “the atithi – the guest – is God”.
A Pali compendium of the Buddha’s teaching advocated a life of generous giving as a way of overcoming suffering caused by desire or craving. There are many extraordinary stories in Buddhist culture about hospitality given to those in need, even to the point of sacrificing bodily parts. This kind of generosity is a natural outgrowth of the principal quality of compassion for all sentient beings.
The prophet Muhammad wrote, “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.” In a prominent website called IslamReligion.com Aisha Stacey wrote in 2011, “Many converts to Islam will tell you about feeling as if they were strangers, before finding Islam. They will speak of feeling that they belonged somewhere else, that their lives were just slightly off centre. They often speak about a vague sense of knowing they were not like everyone else around them, feeling like a stranger in a strange land.”
n this passage, Stacey points to a universal experience, or perhaps I can stretch that just a bit to say, a “Universalist” experience, in the way that many of us feel like strangers in our own communities because of the ways we often think so differently from the mainstream about everything; from politics to religion.
Father Daniel Homan writes in Radical Hospitality: “By our best and worst attempts at hospitality we say to ourselves and to the whole world:
You are not alone.
You are more than you know.
The awful thing is not the final word.
Today is all we have and today is enough.
We need each other.
Rumi wrote the following in a poem called “Guest House”:
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’re 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.
Clovice A. Lewis, Jr.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!