Fear of strangers is rampant in our times. The terrorist attacks of September 11 created a milieu of distrust and paranoia that has been heightened by a series of abductions and crimes against children. Parents are more cautious than ever about teaching their offspring the ancient virtue of openness to others. In this harsh setting, Sarah York's affirmation of the spiritual practice of hospitality is most timely and welcome. She is an ordained minister and author of Pilgrim Heart and Remembering Well.
York reminds us that the word stranger points to what is external, foreign, and outside. All of the world's religions challenge us to provide what York calls a "holy intimacy" whereby we "experience a deep and profound closeness or innerness with what is most foreign or external to us." This goes against the grain of the cultural norm which is wary of outsiders. The author quotes Robert Putnam who believes that the social fabric of communities is being eaten away by the erosion of what he calls "thin trust" between strangers.
Writing about her personal responses to being stuck in an elevator or feeling irritated by telemarketing calls, York reveals how difficult it is to be hospitable. She challenges us to follow Jesus' admonition and become like little children, to recapture "the quality of trust that only a child seems to possess." Retelling the story of the crowd that wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery, York recalls that Bible scholar Robert Funk once suggested that we start a "First Stone Club." Each members will receive a stone and then see how long they can hold on to it.
Practicing hospitality is one way to neutralize our natural tendency to rush to judgment. It is a way to peace in our conflicted world.