Wednesday, April 14, 2010


"Hospitality requires the creation of friendly, empty space..."
—Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
The word "hospitality" instantly conjures up images of a crowded room full of people talking around a table of food. But this past weekend, I experienced hospitality of a very different kind. I attended a silent retreat at King's Fold Retreat & Renewal Centre (one of the most beautiful places in southern Alberta). In the absence of words , there are only thoughtful preparations to speak hospitality to the stranger.

For example, there are the slippers: when you enter into the outdoor greenhouse, you are supposed to remove your shoes. But your feet might get cold, so ready and waiting for you is a basket of handmade slippers in a variety of sizes.

In the outdoor nature paths, there are little brooms to whisk away any debris that may have collected from the woods so you can sit on a clean bench.

This weekend showed me in some small way that the essence of hospitality is not filling the space with words, or filling the space with anything, but simply creating what Nouwen calls a "friendly, empty space" by the sense of thoughtful preparation. There is deep human connection even in that kind of emptiness: someone who has gone ahead, who has your best comfort in mind, and who offers you nothing more than the gift of their forethought and some quiet to enjoy it.