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Lessons in Hospitality and Community

Reflections of Claire Bankole

I am sitting on the porch of ‘the rusty bucket’, a simple wooden ‘casita’ that, back in the day, was a cowboy church; I didnt know cowboy church was a thing. Surrounded by birdsong, in the company of my two canine friends, with the noise of a weed-whacker in the distance, I am reflecting on how much I have learned in the four weeks I have been here.

I’m at the Sparrows Way, a small ranch south west of San Antonio; I am on a pilgrimage to learn and discern and hopefully I can do that in a way that encourages and blesses those I am learning from. During a brief weed-whacker intermission just now, Lourdes who lives here told me how when they first arrived things were so overgrown they couldn't see the next door house. Three months after her youngest was born she was out here each day clearing away the brush, that was eighteen months ago. We take a moment to look through the copse of mesquite trees to the house next door. She still enjoys weed-whacking, the weather today is perfect for it, not too hot, not too cold, she says, and I get the sense it provides some solitude, a short reprieve from the other more clamorous demands of motherhood.

a photo of Lourdes

Families have come and gone from the Sparrows Way but Lourdes’ has been here from the start and remains, looking after the place and hosting random guests like myself. I eat with the family each evening and at least one other time each day Lourdes will present me with a plate of delicious food. Lourdes has taught me about hospitality and community, two things I thought I had a fairly good understanding of.

I hadn't been part of any explicit conversation about my eating arrangements so after a week or so of being fed so generously, anxious lest the family thought I was taking their hospitality for granted, I enquired about somehow contributing to the costs. Soon after, Lourdes shared how in Honduras where she comes from, no matter how poor one might be, there is always a way to provide a meal and refreshment to a guest, it’s just what one does. Where Lourdes comes from people give and receive hospitality as a function of shared humanity that reinforces that common connection. She contrasts that with what she has experienced here

in western culture; we westerners are more comfortable with transactional hospitality. We want to settle accounts as soon as possible through payment or reciprocity, in her words: ‘so that you are not beholden to anyone’. For them being beholden to each other is simply an expression of the truth that life and flourishing are not found in isolation but in community. We on the other hand balk at the thought of being beholden, we’d rather pay each other off and settle for a cheaper hospitality that keeps everyone at a safe distance. We fear the mess of genuine communion, of com-panion-ship the deeper ‘sharing of bread’ together.

So some of the questions I am leaving with as a westerner with a fresh schooling in hospitality and community are:

As I offer hospitality to this person, how do I hope they will pay me back?

As I give or receive hospitality in this situation, what do I fear about not keeping these others at arms length?

The Sparrows Way Ranch is a big dream, the deepest beauty of which I suspect is what happens when we each come with a heart open to learn as we both give and receive hospitality to and from those around us.

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