Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hospitality: The Virtue of Paying Attention

After two weeks in Costa Rica, we are now in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, staying in the home of Friends pastors, David and Arminda Tintaya. As was the case in San Jose, we have been enveloped in a cape of hospitality. We arrived here at midnight, but no matter. Before retiring to our rooms, we had tea with the Tintayas, taking time to catch up since our last visit. And in the few days we’ve been here, we have been hosted and celebrated every day. Each meeting is accompanied by tea and pastries, by laughter and conversation. The focus is on the event and the relationships, not on the schedule. It feels good to be back.

I’m recognizing again that hospitality is part of the spirituality of Latin America. Meeting together around a meal, taking the time to nurture relationships, acknowledging the other—these are values that are core to the very identity of people on this continent.

While in Costa Rica, much of my time and energy was given to the class I taught on “Culture, Spirituality and Mission.” I’ve had a love/hate relationship with teaching all my life, partly due to my own introversion. I guess I’m sort of like the little girl in the nursery rhyme who, “when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” (I even have the same curly hair!) I seem to have either very good or horrid teaching experiences.

This time in San Jose, thanks be to God (and to my praying partners), the class was very good, and I’ve gained new insight. I’m seeing a relationship between hospitality and teaching. The teacher is, in a sense, a host who, like a chef, prepares food that both nurtures and delights. And there is joy in the serving, especially when the host/teacher serves something she herself loves. I’m reminded of Quaker educator Parker Palmer’s model of both teacher and students gathered in a circle around a great theme. In this model the teacher is a learner along with her students, sharing her love of the subject and facilitating as the group learns to gaze at the mystery, “the secret that sits in the center.” This sharing and facilitating are basically acts of hospitality, part of the spirituality of teaching.

I think also of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and his participatory model of education where students are respected for what they bring to the class and encouraged to be active participants in the “construction of knowledge.” This makes the teaching/learning situation one of mutual hospitality, and this dynamic facilitates discovery, application and, hopefully, transformation.

On the airplane between San Jose and Santa Cruz (Saint Joseph and Holy Cross), I was reading a book of essays by Ricardo Barbosa (Conversas no caminho,2008), perhaps the key writer of contemporary Protestant spirituality in Brazil. In an essay simply titled, “Attention,” he makes the statement that “Hospitality is the virtue of paying attention to others. It is the way in which we gather in, listen, touch and create the necessary space for the other to feel loved, protected and accepted.” This is more than serving good food or a stimulating lesson. This integrates hospitality and spirituality and becomes ministry that transforms. Lessons from Latin America.

This is rich food, indeed.

PRODOLA students and teachers, San Jose, August 2009


  1. Amazing how well your text and the photo go together.

  2. thank you for your insight. our Youth group leader is planning a leadership seminar and has charged me with the task of opening the seminar with activities on hospitality and spirituality- your words and comparisons of teaching with hospitality will, hopefully, inspire our youth leaders for this religious ed school term

  3. How wonderful. I think the connections between hospitality, teaching and spirituality are profound, and worthy of further exploration. I'm glad this will be useful to you.