Hospitality–creating a space for mourning

Blog Published: February 24, 2012
By Sister Maxine

Yesterday I attended a funeral service in a Christian church in a small town. The parking lot was packed. People of all ages squeezed into pews, sitting elbow-to-elbow to make room for all. The love and respect in the worship space were tangible.

Open DoorWhen the pastor spoke, he articulated the spirit that I felt in the church. He talked about hospitality, and how it creates a space for mourning.

He urged the assembly to embrace their feelings about the death of their loved one – to grieve, to celebrate a life well lived, to be angry, peaceful, joyful, sad. The pastor didn’t suggest that they should just be happy that their loved one was now with God, or that they should simply be stoic.

It’s hard to let go of the people we love. In times of grief, it’s hard to believe the psalmist’s words–that our despair can be turned into a dance. But the small-town church was a space where people were free to bring all their emotions to God, trusting that the Spirit would be with them, offering consolation and healing and hope.

The church service reminded me of the unselfish nature of hospitality. Hospitality has no hidden agenda. It has no answers or quick fixes. It is open to mystery. It lets people take their time.

Archived Comments

Joyceelaine February 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm

This is beautiful, Sister Max.

sistermaxine February 24, 2012 at 5:07 pm

The ceremony was beautiful–very appropriate for a person who touched the lives of so many others and brought them joy!

marla February 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm

sometimes, too, people really need permission, like that given by this pastor, to feel whatever they feel. how wonderful that someone thought to let the mourners know how acceptable grief is in its many forms.

sistermaxine February 24, 2012 at 5:14 pm

That’s the sense that I had from the pastor’s words, Marla — that it was okay to grieve or to be angry with God or to be at peace. The pastor also quoted from Henri Nouwen’s ideas about hospitality. Great stuff. It’s from Nouwen’s Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life.

kbart February 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Nice blog smx! And it sounds like such a nice celebration for gramma Charlie’s journey to the other side. I will also check out that Nouwen book. When Kathleen Norris talked about hospitality in her books about the Benedictine Monestery she visited/lived in – I was much taken with that. Always meant to read more about that.

sistermaxine February 27, 2012 at 10:30 am

I think you’ll really like Nouwen’s writing! It comes out of a place of deep reflection and peace. The tone reminds me of the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh!

Anne February 25, 2012 at 11:30 am

I love my parish and the sermons on love, charity and hospitality, but we seem to avoid any mention of sex, death and evil. I only thought about this after I witnessed a murder and was trying to make sense of it. Believe me, I don’t want a constant diet of spinach, but a little might have helped me come to terms with this.

marla February 26, 2012 at 12:26 am

since sex, death, and evil comprise much of the world we live in, i think it is ludicrous to avoid the topics in a church. some people are very uncomfortable, though, with confronting truth. it makes the actual confrontations with truth in life more jarring when they come, i think.

sistermaxine February 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

I’m very sorry to hear that, Anne. I hope you’ve found some resources that help you come to terms with what you witnessed.

I’ve found it very helpful when homilists reflect on what it means to be loving, charitable, hospitable, etc., in the face of practical questions about life and death and sex, and in the face of evil done by an institution or an individual.

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