An invitation to be considerate.
by Bethany Luzny (B.A. '14)
For the past week, I've been wracking my brain in an attempt to picture and to create action steps in order to make the perfect centerpieces for the upcoming l'Arche Clinton holiday party—an annual celebration of the past year, where any and everyone is invited to join, from core members and assistants, to family members, neighbors and friends.
In preparation, I've flipped through waxy magazine pages; scrolled through listicle after listicle entitled "50 easy Christmas table spreads" and "25 rustic holiday décor ideas"; and have even braved the never-ending, overwhelming, grid of ideas and pictures that is Pinterest. The whiteboard hanging by my bed is smeared with a viscous black film, the layered remnants of poorly-erased, past prototypes and potential shopping lists, composed of the Christmas centerpiece essentials, as according to my research: glitter, pinecones, red ribbon, white candles, etc.
It might seem trivial, the amount of time and energy I've put into this little project. Little in the sense that I'm only to make four and they're going to be used for a mere two-hour party, where they may or may not garner an audible "Oh, how pretty!" upon the guests' first sight if that. There came a time where even I started to question why I cared so much. The hours I've spent thinking about these decorations has far surpassed the time they'll actually be used. It does, at first, seem quite silly. But, after some reflection while sitting on the floor, surrounded by overturned glass vases and scraps of decorative grass, the answer that I came to is that my concern isn't so much about the centerpieces themselves, as isolated objects. Rather, it's what they're a part of, within the larger context of the celebration. They, along with the music, food, configuration of the room, and disposition of those hosting, come together to create a certain atmosphere, a particular space, one that could take on an array of different moods. It's a great desire, however, that I hope the dominant feeling is one of hospitality.
"But isn't to simply invite and welcome people in being hospitable?" one might ask here. In a certain way, yes, those are acts related to hospitality. In fact, that's where hospitality begins: the risk of reaching out and calling people in, as holistic individuals with recognized pasts and present experiences. However, it doesn't end after an invitation has been accepted or rejected, both of which are heavy with significance in what's being communicated. The concept of hospitality encompasses more. It's about what happens next, shaping a space of belonging and safety, or as Henri Nouwen says, "Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them a space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturb by dividing lines," such as who is on the inside or outside. It's a place where a stranger, an acquaintance, and a friend, "can enter and find themselves created free. Free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dance," to quote from Nouwen again.
This sense of hospitality is something that I've experienced for myself over and over again, be it in a classroom where my voice is listened to, heard, and interacted with; a home in Mavhuza, South Africa where I was physically embraced with hugs and handshakes before even entering the gate; or here, in Clinton, where a colorful welcome banner was strung across my windows when I moved in, making me feel like I was expected, and thought about, and cared for, even then, as a stranger of sorts.
Now, it's with gratitude for these experiences that I turn my attention and energy to welcoming others, with the most recent endeavor being, of course, my part in preparing for the holiday party. But, when it comes to hospitality, no effort is ever too small, as everything works together to create these secure spaces. If a guest is to simply sit back and think for a split second, between bites of ham or while singing a Christmas carol, "I feel like I belong," all of my time will have been worth it. Because to be hospitable is to love and to love is everything.
Bethany Luzny (B.A. '14) is a graduate of Cornerstone University, who majored in humanities with a philosophy emphasis. Following her graduation, she committed to serve as a live-in assistant in l'Arche Clinton, one of 147 ecumenical communities worldwide, where people with and without developmental disabilities share life together. When Bethany isn't making welcome signs for dinner guests with her housemates or attending community celebrations and events, she spends her time reading, going on walks by herself, and trying to convince her housemates to get a cat. For more information about l'Arche, visit www.larcheusa.org.