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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Friday, November 20

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
—Hebrews 13:2

Not long ago, one of my students explained to me why she wasn’t a member of any church. Like many young adults today, she thought of herself as “spiritual,” but she had no particular religious background, no tradition of her own. 

She had occasionally attended services with friends, however, and so when she decided as a teenager to explore her spirituality in a more disciplined and formal way, she returned to one of the congregations she had visited as a child. Unfortunately, her reception was far from warm.

She recalled arriving at the church that Sunday morning, wearing her best dress and feeling good about what lay ahead. She truly believed that this was a place where her faith could grow, a place where she could find true friends to join her on her journey. 

Rather than greeting her, though, the adults in the narthex simply stared or looked away. The teenagers, all sitting together on one side of the church, whispered to one another and laughed. The responses of these church members needed no interpretation; within seconds of entering the building, my student knew she didn’t belong. She left and never returned.

Even those of us who haven’t been through such an experience can understand the hurt it must have caused. Because these were religious people, this teenager had expected to be shown hospitality rather than coldness. They failed her in every way.

In Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, her examination of Benedictine spirituality, Joan Chittister argues that

Benedictine spirituality says that to become whole ourselves we must learn to let others in, if for no other reason than to stretch our own vision, to take responsibility for the world by giving to it out of our own abundance, to make the world safe by guarding its peoples ourselves…Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts.

Hospitality, she continues, is “an act of the recklessly generous heart.”

To practice hospitality is to do far more than observe social propriety. It is to begin to see people as God does, to let them know that they matter, that they have truly been seen. It is, quite simply, one of the most precious gifts we can give.

O God, help me always be ready to receive the stranger, to welcome all who come my way in need of comfort, support, or a word of cheer.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.