Hosting a Human, And Other Lessons in Hospitality

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I love hosting people around our table. I love trying new recipes and anticipating the conversation that will unfold throughout the evening. I love the surprising connections that always seem to be made and the scattering of empty, wine-smudged glasses at the end of the night. I love exchanging hugs as people leave—less awkward than the ones when they first arrived—and sinking into the couch, letting the candles burn a bit longer. Truth be told, I still have a lot to learn when it comes to hosting. I know I worry more than I need to about whether the food will be any good and whether I remembered to wipe the toothpaste splatterings off the bathroom mirror, but I’m getting there. My lived reality is slowly catching up with what I know deep down about true hospitality, that it is, as Jean Vanier wrote, “to love people by showing to them their beauty, their worth and their importance.”

Almost none of that prepared me for being host to another human in my body. This guest was, of course, invited in a certain way, as guests often are, but has also dictated the terms of stay in a way that has been at once thrilling and disconcerting, surreal and utterly ordinary. My guests don’t normally unapologetically force me out of all of my favourite clothes, ushering in the season of the elasticated waistband (which I secretly might never leave.) My guests don’t make me fall asleep the minute my butt hits a chair. My guests don’t normally wipe my brain of any thought that isn’t food-related, and make me meditate on cinnamon buns in the way I used to meditate on a beautiful podcast or book of theology. My guests don’t make me utterly unpredictable to my husband, crying over the type of cheese we bought that day. My guests don’t normally make me feel at once numb and alive, at once more fragile than I have ever been, and more capable.

Ours had seemed a complicated road to conception—although in reality, I know that it was an very ordinary one, a story known to women the world over, countless generations over. A season of excitement giving way to one of seemingly endless longing and waiting. A season of questioning and lament even as we rejoiced with friends in a different season. A season of surrender as we came face to face with our sense of entitlement, and of reconciling ourselves to the fact that our story may look differently than we imagined. A season of renewed anticipation as to all the good that this season without children would hold—actively looking forward to all of it. And then, a jolt of surprise as we slid down onto the bathroom floor, everything screeching to a halt as we found ourselves reorienting yet again in light of those two blue lines.

And so it was a complicated and strange reality to realise that my body was now host to someone longed for with a long love, and yet completely strange and unknown. Henri Nouwen says it well when he says that children come into the world as strangers, as guests whom we are to get to know over time—and again in every new season of their lives. It has been a surreal experience to be host to someone I cannot see or touch or even imagine, and yet who is profoundly connected to and dependent on me.

Even more disconcerting than how unashamedly my guest is pushing and pulling my body to change, has been the realisation of how much I value and need control. How much I need to dictate the terms when I am hosting. In my more lucid moments, I am realising that it’s not really the guest who is doing anything wrong here. Maybe I’m just learning a thing or two about what it means to offer true hospitality. True hospitality is willing to be surprised, to change shape, to respond to even the most outrageous requests with grace and humour. True hospitality is willing to be a servant.

A friend pointed out early on that one thing we all share in common is that we begin our lives as guests. Whether hosted in joy or in fear, whether as a result of tender love or violence, we all knew from the first what it means to grow in an environment where we are utterly dependent on our hosts—hosts who sacrificially allowed us to take up room in miraculous, inconvenient and audacious ways. As people of faith, we are invited to become guests, again and again, every time we approach the Table. The Table is hosted by the One who can only be such a host because he was willing to give entirely of himself.

I am struck by the profundity of this gift every time I dip the bread into the cup. I am struck by how much I have to learn about being a host through this experience of being a guest. I am invited, week after week, to enter into the mystery of communion made possible through surrendering, audacious, self-emptying love. I’m not there yet—and never will be, I guess. But I’m grateful for the reminder of the direction I long to move in.

At the end of it all, I don’t think I’ll really care if I accidentally left the toothpaste on the mirror, but I will want to say that I was willing to make room. That I allowed myself to be surprised and that I slowly learned what it meant to relinquish control. That I grew into a kind of hospitality which was shaped—extravagantly, audaciously and sacrificially—by Love.

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Naomi Pattison-Williams
My name gives a clue as to the English and Japanese in me, but my favourite thing about it is the Hebrew meaning: “pleasant,” a reminder that somehow I am pleasing to my Creator. My heart is a little bit in the various corners of England where I’ve spent most of my life, a little bit in the cherry-tree’d loveliness of Japan where my family is from, and a little in the wide open spaces of my husband’s native Western Canada where we are now making our home. I am currently studying at Regent College in Vancouver–a dream several years in the making–and feeling wildly thankful for it. You can find me on my blog naomipw.com or on Instagram @naopwilliams.
Naomi Pattison-Williams

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