My heart is at your festival
–William Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality”
When I was a young girl and sulking about having to do something social that I would rather avoid, my grandmother would always quote her own mother to me. When she was young and preparing to attend a gathering—happily or otherwise—my grandmother would get dressed in clothing appropriate to the occasion, comb her hair, and gather her coat and belongings to leave her home. As she got to the door, her mother would stop her. She did a superficial spot check to make sure all was well and then gave my grandmother a hug, adding some version of this statement as she walked out: “make them glad they asked you.”
These words were spoken from mother to daughter in the first decades of the 20th century (i.e. a long time ago). And in a culture where we have all become very comfortable in our roles as consumers of experiences, the idea that we have some social responsibility for the success of a gathering might seem odd to us. We talk a lot about offering hospitality; less so about how best to partake in it.
But the wisdom my great grandmother was trying to impart all those years ago highlights the Scriptural truth that showing up with and for others is an active endeavor rather than passive one. Jesus tells his disciples that accepting hospitality opens opportunities for offering the Good News. Whether we are setting the table and opening the doors or walking in and enjoying the food, when we commit to being present to any relational gathering we also commit to investing in the experience; to bringing our best intentions and our whole selves to our encounters with one another.
My great-grandmother’s commission to her daughter may sound a bit old-timey—maybe even a tad works righteous! But it’s really about response: contributing our gifts in response to the gift of generosity whenever and wherever we encounter it. It is in such responses that relationships grow and communities are fortified. And when offered in faith, these same responses create space for us to know more deeply the abiding love and generosity of God.