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Hospitality: making it real

Sister Jenny Howard, foreground left, hugs her Providence Association companion and post author Cathleen Flynn during the sign of peace at a Mass in 2014.

As I reflect on the practice of hospitality in my Providence journey, my mind, perhaps in an effort to sense its meaning through contrast, wanders to times in which I’ve felt unwelcome or far from home. What is it that was absent in those moments?

I recall a soulful conversation with a friend, during which we discovered we both sometimes feel homesickness not for a particular place, but for some unnamed place of origin, a place where one lands and knows herself and her position in the universe with grounded certainty. We agreed this homesickness is so vague and deep it is as if no place on Earth exists that could satiate it. While there is no English word for this particular shade of homesickness, the Welsh have named it – hiraeth. Do you know this feeling, too? And what, if anything, does hiraeth tell me about my need to receive and practice hospitality?

I’ve come to wonder if hiraeth is, at its core, a yearning for my truest Self, or God. Maybe that’s what C.S. Lewis was getting at when he mused, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Call it another world, call it heaven, call it cosmic beyond-ness; maybe it’s that for which I’m pining. Truly no place on Earth could satiate this longing. But here’s the crux – I believe that, through acts of hospitality, we actually co-create moments of heaven on Earth by way of intimate connection with others. To me, the practice of hospitality is sharing space and consciousness with friends and strangers. There I can land and experience my truest Self through right relationship, and, in those moments, I feel completely at home in the universe.

Practicing the art of hospitality: Providence Associate volunteers greet other associates arriving for a a retreat at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

I have not always been so drawn to the Providence practice of hospitality. It was not until I began to mindfully accept hospitality that I began to perceive opportunities to express hospitality toward others. To fully accept hospitality offered to me by others I had to begin claiming my vulnerability. I learned that the extent to which I can connect with my own needs for acceptance and security has a direct impact on my capacity to be present to those around me seeking connection, acceptance, and security. When I extend hospitality to someone with full recognition of our shared vulnerability and needs for welcome and kindness, infinite opportunities for radical togetherness emerge, and a cycle is born. Just as my hospitality grew from seeds planted by those who extended hospitality to me, I plant seeds in those to whom I, as stated by Pohl, “make [my] life visible” in moments of celebration or grief (as cited in Sisters of Providence “Love, Mercy, Justice: A book of practices, p 13). And beneath this cycle of hospitality paid forward, a cycle in which I am now entwined, is the original model of hospitality – Creation.

Creation’s hospitality holds me in place through gravity and offers abundance through plant and animal life. I am grateful. With each new day Creation offers wisdom as I discern how to best receive and practice hospitality at this juncture in my Providence journey. “Welcome,” Creation says. “I am so glad you are here.”

(This is the first of the Providence Associate’s new “Making it Real” reflections. Read more about these new features here.)

For Reflection: How do I practice hospitality in my life? How has the hospitality of the Providence Community been extended to me? How does my Providence Associate relationship affect my experience of hospitality? How do I pay it forward?


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Cathleen Flynn

Cathleen Flynn

Cathleen Flynn is a Providence Associate living in western North Carolina. She works as a board-certified music therapist in hospice and bereavement care, and finds Providence in the outdoors, authentic relationships, the arts, off-beat humor and her kitchen.

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  1. Avatar Donna Butler on February 10, 2017 at 9:43 am

    What a wonderful reflection on hospitality, one worth reading more than once and taking time to really reflect on the meaning and the wonder of this gift! It is something always available to us and so significant in the needs of our country and our world.

    Keep writing, Cathleen! You have wisdom to share!

    • Avatar Cathleen on February 10, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Thank you, Donna! The hospitality shown to me by the Providence community has been significant, and I agree that this practice is urgently needed.

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