The Red Couch: Making Room Discussion


red couch -making room- discussion

It is evening and our kitchen is alive with chatter, squabbles, and the frustrations of children. A meal is finding form in the scrape of a knife against a chopping board; the familiar clang of pots and pans, fetched, stirred and tended. This daily ritual is both soothing and exhausting in its ordinariness.

The telephone begins to bleat – an unwelcome addition to the chorus. I sigh deeply. Before I answer, I know who will be on the line. I glance around the scattered pots, broken bodies offering up a meal to sustain us. There is more than enough here, there almost always is. A short conversation and an invitation is offered and accepted: Why don’t you come and eat with us tonight? I have learned over the years, that a place at the table speaks to a far greater need than a meal delivered to the door ever could.

Presence is a powerful healer.

In Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as Christian Tradition, Christine Pohl invites us into the roots of the tradition of hospitality in the Christian church and explores how it might be revitalized in the personal and communal life of Christian community today. Central to Pohl’s thesis is the importance of the home as a location for hospitality and the need for hospitality to be personal and face to face.

For Pohl, the institutionalization of care, while a necessary development and response, has had a devastating side effect, creating distance between carers and those cared for (chapter 3). The high value placed on efficiency in Western society has seeped into our approach to care. Drawing on the wisdom of Christian tradition from the early church to the present, Pohl looks at the way the home has shifted in and out of focus. She advocates for a reinvigoration of hospitality that centres around the home and household, in particular, the sharing of meals around the table.

A key aspect of Pohl’s framing of hospitality within the Christian tradition is the emphasis on hospitality as a socially transformative practice which transcends power structures and social boundaries. Making room for the stranger is about more than creating physical space, or providing material care. It is about creating connections which show we see the person beyond the needs. Hospitality is at its most powerful and transformative when it crosses boundaries offering “…generous welcome to the ‘least’ without concern for advantage or benefit to the host” (chapter 2).

One of the chapters which resonated most with me was her exploration of the spiritual rhythms which sustain hospitality. My own experiences of living in community and wrestling with the litany of “unrelenting need” as Pohl describes it rang true. Whilst there are enormous gifts to offering consistent, open, inclusive hospitality, there are also enormous challenges.

We will not always be the organised competent hosts we might wish to be, and our guests may not always be grateful. As Pohl suggests, “To offer hospitality we will need to rethink and reshape our priorities” (chapter 9). We will need to move away from a focus on Pinterest perfect tables and masterful culinary performance, and toward a more modest and messy inclusion. If our hearts are to remain open and attentive to the task, we need to cultivate spiritual practices which will sustain us.

One of the practices Pohl highlights is gratitude which infuses us with generosity. Providing us with the necessary fuel to keep opening our doors to others:

“Our hospitality both reflects and participates in God’s hospitality. It depends on a disposition of love because fundamentally, hospitality is simply love in action. It has much more to do with the resources of a generous heart than with sufficiency of food or space” (chapter 9).

A truly open table flows from an open heart which, holds its gifts lightly and knows the value of small acts of kindness and attention. It is these small acts which direct attention to a different set of values, and the God who is both host and guest.

Questions for discussion:

Pohl talks about Christian hospitality as being the welcoming of strangers, particularly those who are on the margins of our society. Who are the strangers you find most difficult to welcome? Who are those you find it easiest to make space for?

In Chapter Seven, Pohl explores the tension between the need for boundaries and the desire to keep the door wide open in our practices of hospitality. Have you experienced this tension? How are you managing it?

In her opening chapter, Pohl talks about the “bone weariness of responding to unrelenting need”  (chapter 1) and closes with a discussion of spiritual practices for sustaining hospitality. What spiritual practices have you found useful in building and restoring your bone marrow for the work of hospitality?

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