A Different Kind of Hospitality – a Reflection on Rumi’s “The Guest House”

Organisational Statement of Position
March 23, 2020
The Swedish Celebration of St Lucia and the Power of Light over Darkness  
December 4, 2020

A Different Kind of Hospitality – a Reflection on Rumi’s “The Guest House”

By Andrea Vogt, Operation Mercy International Director

I recently found this poem from Rumi online and it touched me deeply because I think that here we read what hospitality really means:

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.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.[1]

In the west when we say that someone has a gift of hospitality, we often mean he is good at hosting, cooking, and decorating. But when I read Rumi something quite different speaks to me.

When asked what I love most about the countries Operation Mercy works in I often say, “The amazing hospitality”. Yes, it is the food and the many cups of tea shared, the amazing generosity, and that you can drop in on people at any time. But reading this poem unlocked what it really is that has resonated with me for the last 20 years: It is a lifestyle to welcome anyone and anything.

I have been a stranger at many people’s doors. They had no idea if I was a good or bad person, but not once was I rejected.

“Welcome and entertain them all” Rumi writes, but of course this text goes so much deeper: Welcome not only people, but welcome feelings, unplanned situations, sorrow, and joy:

“The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.”

I have seen this in action.  I have seen sickness, war, and poverty stand at the door and people found the capacity as a community and family to welcome and walk through them into a better future.

What stands on your threshold in 2020?

What stands at Operation Mercy’s door? Rockets flying from Iran landing near our team in Northern Iraq, COVID 19, trouble with government permissions, more COVID 19, illness and death among staff, and plans for organisational development totally overturned by lock downs and pandemic.

I think what Rumi writes about is the core of practical and spiritual hospitality. I think it resonates deeply with the worlds of Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus in the Bible:

 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” [2]

This kind of hospitality that welcomes change, or even calamity, at one’s door, that is the kind of hospitality that can only flourish where there is hope and community. It is a hospitality that draws on capacity beyond my own human strength. This is something that many of the Persian Poets, who were deeply spiritual people, understood maybe better than we do today.

I invite you to mediate with us on these words this month, and practice this kind of hospitality.

[1] Copyright 1997 by Coleman Barks. From The Illuminated Rumi.

[2] 1 Peter 4:8-9

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