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The grace of shabby hospitality

The grace of shabby hospitality

. 3 min read

My friend's house was cramped, messy, they'd just moved in. They were in-between, waiting to hear where the next job would take them. This house was a holding pattern, lasting longer than they expected. There were baby toys strewn across the floor, boxes piled against the wall overflowing with stuff that wasn't theirs, old VHS tapes, random files, a deep freeze, and soe white wicker furniture were stacked unceremoniously in the screened in porch. The former owner was still moving out. The baby toddled up to me happily through the mess and shouted her name. The kids and I had come for lunch, but it wasn't ready yet.

"I'm a mess," my friend sighed after we walked around and around in circles between the tight kitchen and separate eating area in the old row home, getting lunch together.

"Nah," I said, then I looked around, at the stove that didn't heat passed 350 degrees, the microwave that scorched everything, the sulky cat quarantined to the small laundry room in the back, the trash the baby had riffled through before anyone could stop her. "Well, maybe a little, but if you are a mess, you're a beautiful mess."

Our families spent several happy hours together, playing, chatting, sipping lemonade. We were very sure to vacuum up after we were done eating so the ants wouldn't come back and bite the baby.

There is a grace in this sort of shabby hospitality. To let people in when everything is unraveled and messy and in between. It's tender. And authentic. And rare. It's a gift. The grace is in the risk the host takes in letting you in, to see them as they really are. It's the favor they show you that says your presence is more important than their current condition or any silent judgments you may have about it.

This sort of grace is risky.

In the old religions and wisdom traditions, hospitality was a mandate. You must open your homes to traveling strangers, they could be a god or an angel.

We are all children of God. All of us. No matter the status, condition, color, creed. We all have a soul that comes from the unseen energy behind creation. We didn't ask for it, we don't understand it or control it, it's just there, it just is at the center of who we are, a spark of the divine. Image Dei. I think this is what the ancient mandates meant to say, when they declared you might be entertaining an angel. They were acknowledging the sacred center in all of us. Practicing hospitality is meant to connect us to each other on a spiritual level. There's a reason the central image of my Christian faith is a shared table and bread and wine.

Hospitality invites us to see passed the clutter of our lives, physical and metaphysical, to really see each other as we are. Always in between. A real mess, never perfectly together. But still bright and beautiful.

The staged and fragmented nature of our online lives makes this grace and practice increasingly rare. We see a well-framed snapshot without the larger context. The risk is minimal because we have absolute control of the narrative. We forget that grace shines brightest in the imperfections. Practicing shabby hospitality finds the sacred center within our imperfections.

Imperfections are things I routinely try to cover up. For many years, I've missed this grace.

Some of the best conversations I've ever had have been while I'm sweeping a friend's floor or doing a sister's dishes. Or while I'm letting them do this for me. There's a sense of belonging in sharing the workload, togetherness, bondedness when you let people show up. There's grace that calls out, "here I am, come in." And grace that answers "I see you there, let me help."