"Wide Open Wilderness"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday my wife and I attended a local Greek Festival sponsored by a Greek Orthodox church in one of the neighboring desert communities. Actually we attend this event every year since - we enjoy the good food and the entertainment, and I also find it to be a spiritual experience.
This festival is held outdoors under a massive white tent without any sides so anyone can enter without having to pass through any doors or restrictions and yesterday as we sat eating some wonderful Greek food I noticed the wide diversity of the people who were sitting with us in that tent. There were Anglos, Latinos, Asians and African Americans, old and young, rich and poor, people in wheelchairs and children running all around. There were religious people and people who likely have never seen the inside of a church, and we were all sharing a meal, some were dancing, all of us together under that wide open tent.
It was such a powerful icon of what religion “should” be all about and as I see it, an icon of what any spiritual journey is all about.
In the Jewish Scriptures there is a story about Abraham, the ancient Patriarch, who set up a big tent in the midst of the wide open desert. Abraham was a nomad who with his family and his flock of sheep wandered in the wilderness. Like all nomads from time to time he and his clan would pitch a tent in the wilderness where they might stop and eat and rest. As the story goes, when Abraham set up his tent he always kept the flaps wide-open at all times so that he could see other 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 - such a wonderful story of unrestricted, wide open, untamed hospitality.
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 do some have shown hospitality to angels (Hebrews: 13:2)
Interestingly enough the three major world religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all hail “Abraham” as their Patriarch and are known as “Abrahamic” religions, so it seems very odd to me that these religions would ultimately become so restrictive and exclusive since the ancient patriarch was an icon of such unrestricted hospitality.
When I look at the life and teachings of Jesus, I see someone who also lived a life of untamed hospitality and he urged his followers to do the same. For Jesus, 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.
As I see it, the practice of untamed hospitality 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.