Soul Food Advent Blog Series 2018: 'Room at the Table'
Guest blogger: Tara Devlin
Hospitality (noun) : the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.
A blanket on a dusty floor. An invitation to play. A safe space away from the chaos and violence. A warm and smiling welcome. An opportunity to be seen.
At the start of this year my understanding of hospitality would have born a strong resemblance to the dictionary definition. Laying the table, preparing food, cleaning up the guest bedroom, making space in my home. Guests would usually carry a bottle of something or some flowers, the conversation would flow as we moved to the comfortable seats and the evening would end with a warm glow of satisfaction.
Things are different now.
Since moving to work in Trench Town, a troubled and impoverished inner-city community in Kingston, Jamaica, what it is to give a friendly and generous reception to someone has changed significantly. The children and young people here carry the scars of this place, physically and emotionally. The turbulence and turmoil of their surroundings follow them like a shadow they cannot escape no matter how fast they run. How do I lay a table for them and make them welcome?
A square of cloth and a few toys offer an invitation to sit and play, a window of time where one child can be given complete attention and the freedom to express themselves however they need to. In this friendly and generous reception trauma can be processed, grief explored, healing begun. Smiles return and joy is rediscovered. This is a sacred space. It might just be the most important hospitality I have ever offered.
Shauna Niequist, one of my favourite Christian authors, says “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.” I love the sentiment here, but would like to change one word for it to fully encompass what I believe true hospitality to be. Rather than just my table being a safe zone for those who need refuge, what if my company became that place? Could my presence in someone else’s life offer a place of warmth to those left in the cold? What if I lived my life to nourish others, in whatever way I could? I don’t need a table to exercise hospitality, I simply need an attitude of welcome and the willingness to make space in my heart and in my day.
True hospitality isn’t always convenient or easy. It isn’t exclusive or reciprocated. It may not come with appreciation or acknowledgement. But making space for the marginalised and forgotten, finding room for those who are hurting and lonely, giving time and attention to those left behind is the hospitality of Jesus.
Christmas is a time when we set tables, receive guests, host gatherings and open our homes. As you prepare to offer hospitality this season, how broad is your definition, and can it get any wider?
Tara Devlin works for Fusion Jamaica, serving the children and young people of Trench Town. She and her husband Adrian moved to Kingston from Edinburgh in June this year to take up this opportunity and intend to stay for two years.