That word “hospitality” makes me cringe with thoughts of well-polished ladies serving tea with plastic smiles and delicate conversation. The pretense irritates me, while at the same time, the unattainable precision intimidates me. There is no amount of commitment and study that could make me into Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines. I could go to every craft fair and ladies luncheon and still be my awkward, bumbling self. I lack an eye (and a desire) for Pinterest perfection. I am not a great cook, baker, crafter, home designer, etc. I go into a full sweat at the thought of trying to figure out what to serve guests for dinner.
That being said, I have felt on the outside of hospitality, like some sort of desire or capacity that should be within me just isn’t. Yet, I wonder if consumerism has wrung the beauty of a simple welcome out of our view of hospitality, replacing it with a competition to acquire, to impress, to distract, and to pretend. I think of the people that I have felt the most at home with, and I find myself at home in their personhood not their created surroundings. Perhaps hospitality radiates from one’s being rather than one’s created inhabitation.
As I ponder these thoughts sitting at my desk in my office, my view is the farmer’s field across the street from my house. Having only moved here in September of 2020, this is our first summer here, our first year of watching an agrarian lifestyle through the seasons up close, bearing witness to a way of life that I have often taken for granted. Once again, proximity changes us. I have started to look at the weather differently; what I have thought as inconvenient is a gift to the farmer. Rainy days are good days and heavy snow means an insulated earth and water later. I think of this farmer as I eat. My food did not magically appear on my plate. It has a story, a history of labor, struggle, sacrifice, ingenuity, and care.
Along with the beautiful scape out my window, our family also inherited a sizable, raised-bed, fenced-in garden in our backyard. Here we have attempted our first planting, watering, weeding, tending, and hopefully, harvesting. Digging in the dirt, feeling it in our fingers, thinking about and caring for these seedlings, and paying attention to rain patterns- this is new ground for us, and it is stirring an ontological response within me. “Molly, this is who you are.”
At this point you might be wondering what dirt has to do with hospitality. In the biblical creation mythos found in Genesis 2, dirt (‘adamah) is a foundational building material for hospitality, for homebuilding. God creates a garden from the dirt, all life flowing from dirt, water, and wind. God forms humanity (‘adam) from this same dirt. Dirt would host the roots of vegetation, dirt would be landing and resting place for animals, and dirt would be home to the breath of God in the shell of a human vessel. God would create a home for all living things- birds, cattle, insects, bacteria, and humans. As homebuilder, God would hand over this world to the dominion of humanity, intending us to image God by caring, cultivating, and encouraging flourishing. God would then walk amongst this garden, as both host and guest. What a wonder to be able to exist in such complexity.
Humans prefer clearer lines- either I’m host or I’m guest. But God is all and in all, host and creator, guest and servant. God creates what God inhabits. God visits what God has made. God is fully present and God incarnates. This is too much for me to fully understand, but it is a reality none the less.
As I put my hands in the dirt this summer, I am both dirt and gardener, both host and guest. I respect my ontological roots in this dirt, and I honor my responsibility to care for it. I see this same complexity in all of the persons of the Trinity- Creator, Son, and Spirit. Jesus, God of the universe, present at creation, never owned his own table here, but often sat as guest amongst those he created. Yet, he has gone to create a place for us, preparing for the day he will host our eternity. Spirit is our breath, our sustenance, and is also guest within our bodies.
This complexity informs how I hope to move through the world. I am both host to the indwelling God and very much guest on God’s green earth. When I walk through the world, I am becoming more aware of all that I think is mine that is truly laughable (my home, my land, my possessions, my status, my privilege). Who am I but dirt? And as commissioned gardener and image bearer, I am becoming more aware of what hosting is meant to be, care for the flourishing of another living being.
As a Western, European-American, Christian, I bear the implicit bias of thinking of myself primarily as host, as the one who owns, invites, claims, and conquers. Because of my heritage, I launch from the dominant culture’s sense of home and center. My sense of place is the place to be, the place in which all “should arrive” or from which to be sent. My normal is Western culture’s accepted normal. This grieves me, particularly when I think of the Doctrine of Discovery and the arrogance of American ideology that sticks their flag in the dirt of anywhere they land and claims it as theirs. This is an uninformed understanding of dirt, place, and God’s creational intention. In Jesus’ divinity, he did not lay claim to the position of host. How dare I walk around the world like I own the place, entering spaces already occupied and/or sustained as if I was God’s gift to this new-to-me environment? In my whiteness, I must acknowledge my propensity to hijack and host, when I am, in fact, the guest.
May I move like Jesus through this world, with no table of my own, with respect and dignity, with my hands deeply entrenched in dirt, cognizant of the gift and responsibility that is humanity, humble servant and careful tender. May my hospitality be giving and receiving, breathing in and breathing out, reciprocal “us,” and ever-increasing. May my hosting never be too polished that I forget the dirt from which I came. May I tread lightly as guest, and humbly as host.