The Transforming Power of Hospitality

By Patrick McInerney
September 3, 2011

E-journey Interreligious Dialogue

Holy Spirit, come into our lives.

Open our ears –to hear what you are saying to us
in the things that happen to us
in the people we meet
in the spiritual traditions we encounter.
Open our eyes –to see the needs of the people round us.
Open our hands—to do our work well
to help when help is needed.

Read Prayer | More Prayers | More Reflections

The Abraham Conference was held recently in Sydney.  Jews, Christians and Muslims came together for shared reflection and discussion on contemporary issues.  We had a simple format.  There was a key-note speaker from one of the three faith traditions (this time it was the turn for a Christian speaker), followed by respondents from each of the other two traditions.  After a break for refreshments there were table discussions that involved all the Conference participants, Jews, Christians and Muslims, followed by Question and Answer to the panel of speakers.

The speakers were excellent, in the ideas they shared, the challenges they presented, the ways forward they suggested and the manner of their presentation, all of which created a very cordial atmosphere.  But for me the most moving moment of the Conference came during the table discussions.  One of the people introduced himself as a child survivor of the Holocaust.  He said that he migrated to Australia over forty years ago.  When he moved into a house in a suburb, the woman from next door brought over a plate of home-made biscuits and a jug of milk.  With tears in his eyes, he said: “That experience changed my life.  I never knew that people could be so kind.”

There were tears in my eyes too as I listened to his witness of the transforming power of hospitality (one of the topics our speakers had presented).  The biscuits and milk were not expensive.  Quite the opposite!  They were the ordinary fare that people have for afternoon tea.  But the fact that the neighbor shared the food from his own table was powerful.  It made the stranger into a neighbor, the new arrival into a local, the outsider into an insider, someone who belonged.

The man went on to say that he never forgot that experience and ever since has tried to live his life in the same way – welcoming others, showing hospitality, being kind to strangers and making them feel at home.  Such is the Kingdom of God.