« Back to main blog page
On Hospitality: A Place at the TableBy Parker Jameson
One of the Seminary’s Core Values: “Hospitality: creating a common life that welcomes difference and ensures that all voices are heard”
I am writing this on the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday 2017, so I suppose that it is not surprising that I am already meditating on the Three Days to come. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus says goodbye to his old life and friends, and releases himself to the uncertainty of the mob. On Good Friday, others will challenge his identity and drag him into the unknown territory of a show trial, a death by torture on a cross, and finally being laid beyond all that was familiar, waiting helplessly through Holy Saturday. Only when dawn returns on the Third Day will he be raised both recognizably himself and yet also deeply, profoundly transformed.
The arc of leaving behind the familiar, releasing ourselves to the unknown which—although it can be both frightening and exhilarating—ultimately demands dying, and the helpless wait for God’s strength to work is the story of being part of this seminary community.
When a student comes to the Seminary of the Southwest, they leave behind their old life. To come to this moment, each person has prayed, served, asked for and received the support of their community. They have in various ways been immersed in the scriptures, the liturgy, and the life of a Christian community. They have grown to a certain place of maturity in Christ. ‘Back home,’ whatever that was and meant, provided at least a modicum of spiritual, emotional, financial, and intellectual stability.
Now, all of that is behind them. They left a supportive church community. They left friends and neighbors. They took off the identity of their work and almost always assume financial uncertainty.
In front of them is an unfamiliar life: a new school, usually a new city, often a new state; new classmates, SPOTS, children, faculty, administrators, staff. Coursework which will present new intellectual challenges and expand their understandings of scripture, leadership, theology, liturgy, ethics. Most will also find themselves struggling with spiritual and emotional identity, relationships, and financial status.
However, this is not the journey of the student only. At the beginning of each year, the staff, administrators, faculty, SPOTS, children leave behind the familiar. With the arrival of new persons, new times, all of us are entering new territory, all leaving behind the familiar to enter the desert.
The Rev. Jim Clark, creator of The ART of Engaging Holy Scripture, suggests that each time we respond to that invitation to enter the unfamiliar territory, we return to three questions:
Questions for the Community
Who is God?
Who are we?
Why are we here?
Questions for the Individual
Who is God?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
The operating assumption is that the Holy Spirit is at work in each person who comes here and in the community as a whole: staff, administrators, SPOTS, faculty, children, students. Each has a responsibility to hold open a sacred space so that the grace of the Spirit’s presence is made become visible and effective. In a word, hospitality is the grace which redeems the story.
In Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, Henri Nouwen writes that
Hospitality . . . means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. . . . The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. (Nouwen, 51)
Each in our own order—children, students, staff member, administrator, faculty, SPOTS—serve one another by holding open the sacred space in which our sister or brother leaves and dies to the old, rests in that helpless space and time, and is raised to new life and new service. What we offer one another is what was first offered to us: a place at the Table. Two images come to mind.
In Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity, the three Persons of the Trinity occupy three sides of a four sided Table. The fourth side is open to us, an invitation to join Them at the Table. It is the same moment when, on Mondays at the 11:45 Eucharist, Cynthia Briggs-Kittredge lifts up the Bread and the Wine and invites the community to the Table. We are invited into the holy space, the eternal time which the Spirit holds open for us so that, in Nouwen’s words, we “discover [our]selves as created free; free to sing [our] own songs, speak [our] own languages, dance [our] own dances; free also to leave and follow [our] own vocations.” We are raised both recognizably ourselves, yet deeply, profoundly new. And because we have received the hospitality of God which makes all new, we are sent forth to give the hospitality of God to each other and to the world.
After thirty-five years, Parker Jameson retired from parish ministry in mid-2016. He and his wife, Paula, are now listening to the new directions they are being called in by the Spirit. They are on their own Three Day journey. He serves as an adjunct faculty member for Field Education at the seminary.
Advent Meditations and Prayers 2014
advent meditations and prayers 2015
Advent Meditations and Prayers 2016
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge
Friday Fun Photo
John Hines Day
Mary Balfour Van Zandt
Seminary of the Southwest
Seminary of the Southwest Dean and President
Staying Cool in Austin
Tweet of the Day
Twelve Days of Christmas