One of my favorite books is Kathleen Norris’ Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (2001, Mariner Books). Kathleen captured in words the formative power of the land and sky of the Dakota plains. This is the landscape and the people that gave birth to me and helped shape my soul. I was reminded of this formative power as I crisscrossed the Dakota and Minnesota prairies last month on some truly “big sky” days.
Kathleen writes fondly of the monasteries and abbeys (primarily Benedictine) that dot the prairies. I have visited or been in retreat at nearly all of them. She speaks of the radical nature of monastic hospitality. I have been the beneficiary of their radical hospitality. Their hospitality is an attitude, a posture, a lifestyle that one monk described to Kathleen as “the madness of great love.”
Monastic hospitality encourages the monk to see “Christ in our midst as well as on our altars.” It also encourages the guest to recognize the holiness within, to be more hospitable to self, saying with the monk, in both weariness and wonder: “Oh, Jesus, it is you again!” Hospitality that focuses on seeing Christ in oneself, as well as the other, can’t help but transform both parties. That is the purpose and power of Christian hospitality!
Perhaps you have experienced this kind of radical, life-changing hospitality. A time when someone saw Jesus in you or helped you to recognize the Christ within you. Perhaps you have known the kind of love that doesn’t make sense, that overwhelms, that flows without condition—that is extravagant beyond anything you could imagine or deserve. Perhaps you have been blessed with the kind of love that is pure madness.
I believe God is calling Minnesota United Methodists to become radically hospitable. I pray every day that every one of our more than 350 congregations will practice the “madness of great love” toward all who find their way to our doors; toward all the forgotten and invisible people who wander our streets; toward all the broken, despised, lost, and sin-sick who live among us in our neighborhoods and communities.
Radical hospitality—or the “madness of great love”—is more than cookies and coffee; it is crossing the barriers that divide and exclude. Radical hospitality is more than being friendly and polite; it is positioning ourselves with the poor, the outcast, the stranger, the children, and those whom society (and all too often, the church) label as illegitimate or unacceptable or incompatible. Radical hospitality is more than inviting our family and friends; it is inviting those who never get invited or included. Radical hospitality is pure madness.
Radical hospitality means seeking and seeing Christ in each person. The monks do this by greeting one another with, “It is my blessing to be with you.” Let us bless and be blessed by the holiness within each of us. Let us be known as a church that practices the “madness of great love.” Don’t you want to be a part of such a church?
Bishop Bruce R. Ough is resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Episcopal Area.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church