Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No One Outside the Gate

the entrance gate to my desert retreat house

The little bell at my entranceway rang out yesterday morning announcing the arrival of a repairman who had come to "tune up"my old grandfather clock. As I opened the gate to let him in, I remembered a phrase that I have often seen posted over the entranceways of many Benedictine monasteries I have visited in my life: "Receive All as Christ."

Most people think that monks cut themselves off from the outside world and so, at first blush,  it may seem odd that a monastic community would be so welcoming and hospitable to "outsiders." But the fact is that, "hospitality" is a foundational principle of monastic life. Every single person who rings the bell at the gate, regardless of who they are,  is to be received as if he or she is Christ - generously welcomed with open arms and treated with profound respect.

I'm actually not surprised at the monastic practice of hospitality. After all, monks devote their entire lives to be faithful followers of Jesus and to live according to Christ's example. 

When I look at the life and teachings of Jesus, I find someone who is an "icon" of hospitality.  By that, I don't mean that Jesus threw great parties or set a nice table. Jesus is an "icon"of hospitality because of his  "lifestyle."  He welcomed any who came to the entrance of his life with open arms and treated them with profound respect - no one was ever left standing outside the gate. 

He kissed the leper, touched the untouchable, ate with sinners, exalted the faith of pagans and Samaritans, and he even entered the house of an enemy Roman centurion in order to heal his dying servant, everyone always welcome to the table of his life.

I guess that's why I am always so appalled when I see "others" pushed aside and shunned in the name of Christ. I have seen example after example in which "Christians" have enforced a doctrine of exclusion rather than practiced a lifestyle of hospitality.

Over my lifetime I have seen far too many Christians keep "others" outside the gate because they were too "different"--from a foreign country or practice the wrong kind of religion. They didn't speak English well enough,  or were the wrong color, or the wrong gender, or they embraced an unacceptable sexual orientation. 

 Far too many times I have heard churches pronounce the words, "You don't belong. " It's a phrase unworthy of any church -  a phrase that has no place on the lips of any Christian.

Today I open my arms and embrace any who ring the bell at the entranceway of my life - no one standing outside the gate.

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