Thursday, August 6, 2015

Wide Open Doors

"No Locks, No Gates, No Doors"
 -Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I was quite struck with a remark Pope Francis made yesterday as he addressed the crowds in Saint Peter’s Square. He urged priests to welcome people who have been previously divorced with open arms, proclaiming that the church is to be a place of:

wide open doors

On the surface this may not sound like such a big deal, after all half the population is divorced;  but actually this is a rather earth-shaking and even radical proposition when it comes from the lips of a pope. In the past there has never been a place in the life of the church for people who are divorced. Historically, popes have been notorious for excluding, shunning and excommunicating people and the church has been a place of closed not open doors, where only those who follow the rules and meet standards of acceptability are given entrance.

And yet, as I reflect on it, this pope’s proclamation that his church is to be a place of open doors is well- within the teachings of Jesus who practiced a most radical form of hospitality.

Jesus lived an “open-door” kind of life and he urged his followers to do the same- no one was ever shut out, everyone was always welcome to the table. the rich and the poor, healthy and sick, those who followed the law as well as notorious sinners, Jews, Gentiles and pagans. Jesus never taught people to ignore the laws of religion but he did teach that above all else, hospitality is the primary rule that trumps all the other rules - the ultimate and underlying principle for the the way his followers were to conduct their lives.

I am reminded of one of the “Sayings” from the ancient Christian 4th century Desert Monks: Some travelers had ventured out to the desert to visit one of the monks, seeking his wisdom and counsel. The old monk spent the day with his visitors whom he had warmly welcomed to his table and his home. As his guests were about to leave they said,

Forgive us brother we have prevented you from doing your daily work,
and kept you from your prayers and meditation.
The brother answered:
‘My most important work is to open my doors and welcome you
with open arms.’

There is another “desert story” about the importance of “radical hospitality” as guiding principle on the spiritual journey - the story in the Hebrew Scriptures about the Patriarch Abraham. As a desert nomad, Abraham and his tribe pitched their tents in the wilderness. But unlike the other tents, Abraham always kept the flaps of his tent wide-open at all times so that he cold see travelers passing by and call out to them to offer them the hospitality of a cool drink, a meal, a place to rest and talk.

According to the legend, one day, three strangers whom Abraham had invited to his tent turned out to be three angels in disguise – that’s why the “Bible” teaches:

Do not forget to welcome strangers,
for by doing so some have shown hospitality to angels (Hebrews: 13:2)

As I think about it, living an “open-door” style of life is ultimately at the very heart of any spiritual journey, regardless of the path. On a spiritual path, our life-tent, pitched in the wilderness should always have its “flaps” wide-open to whomever or whatever comes along.

The renowned Sufi Poet, Rumi, compares a “fully alive” human being to a “guest house” whose doors are always open to the visitation of whatever experiences might show up at the entranceway.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Be grateful for whoever comes and invite them in.

I sit in my garden and look out at the wide-open desert outside my house - a place without doors, no locks, no guards at the gates. I pitch the tent of my life out here in the middle of this wilderness and the flaps of the tent are open wide as I look to see who or what may show up on this day of the journey.

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