By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Review | Published September 13, 2007
EVERY DAY HOSPITALITY: Simple Steps to Cultivating a Welcoming Heart by Thea Jarvis. Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, Ind., 2007).
Paperback, 128 pp. $10.95.
Summer is over, and the kids are back in school. Bathing suits have been stashed away, the guest room now sits silently and the visitors who paraded through the house are gone.
At least until the fall and winter holidays unfold.
And then, before you can say “sweet potato pie,” there may be an eager throng of family members heading your way for another visit.
As you scurry around getting ready, it helps to have a reminder that real hospitality is about more than stocking the pantry and cleaning the house.
Instead, hospitality must begin in the heart, says Thea Jarvis in her new book, “Every Day Hospitality.”
The book describes the art of welcoming people—into one’s home and into one’s life—as a way to imitate Christ.
The book should inspire readers, like this reviewer, who have yearned to be more hospitable but lacked real-life examples.
“A conscious pursuit of hospitality can lead to sanctity because it invariably involves selflessness and sacrifice,” Jarvis notes. At its deepest level, hospitality means putting aside one’s own needs and putting others first.
Jarvis shows, through examples from her own life, as well as her friends, plus well-known Catholic figures, that hospitality is a virtue that can be imitated and practiced.
Hospitality is about much more than simply inviting people into your home but instead involves loving others and extending kindness to them, she says.
Still, she is aware that some people shy away from hosting others. They may cite their many responsibilities and a limited amount of time and energy.
These busy folks will appreciate the fact that Jarvis is not just examining Christian hospitality; she is living it.
A former Atlanta resident and writer for The Georgia Bulletin, Jarvis and her husband retired to a small island, where, as you might imagine, they have hosted numerous carloads of guests, pining for a restful seaside escape.
She humorously notes the souvenirs left behind by family: the tiny fingerprints on walls and windows; the dent in the garage door.
At first, she admits, she wanted things to go perfectly. But with the passing of time, she has mellowed:
“My idea of a tidy house has given way to the temporary chaos that ensues when beloved grandchildren or close friends come to call.”
As she has practiced the art of hospitality, Jarvis says her own heart has changed. She no longer gets tied up in knots if she forgets to put out extra pillows or plug in the coffee pot.
Her prescriptions for hospitality apply to any act of love. We have to stop concentrating on the way things—and people—should be, and cherish them as they are.
And when we attempt to loosen up and let go, we may reap many blessings.
In describing the blessings that flow from hospitality, Jarvis recounts the Old Testament story, in which Abraham and Sarah, elderly and childless, offer food and drink to three strangers.
They are rewarded by a gift from the Lord, when Sarah bears a child.
At times, Jarvis’ book loses steam by stretching the concept of hospitality too far. Some examples seem more like garden-variety generosity, such as the author giving a coat to a little boy in need, or a mother-in-law pitching in when her daughter-in-law is hospitalized with a difficult pregnancy.
Still, some of Jarvis’ more focused examples of hospitality are truly breathtaking, such as the couple who invited a young refugee to live with them for two years, until he could develop the stability necessary to live on his own.
Their blessing came when the young man found a job, eventually married and had children, and shared the joys of his family with them.
She also mentions well-known people who embraced hospitality as a way to follow Christ. There was Dorothy Day, who started the Catholic Worker houses in New York, where food and lodging were offered to the poor.
And Mother Teresa, who opened homes for the dying and the poor around the world, and based her ministry on the words of Christ, who said that whatever we do to suffering people, we are doing to Him.
The book closes on a lovely, down-to-earth note, with the author enjoying the song of a simple brown bird that shows up every morning near her back porch.
For Jarvis, the bird brings a message from the one who is forgiving, merciful—and hospitable. It is God Himself, who reminds her that “you are loved.”
And, in the end, that is the same message that shines forth in true hospitality.
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of three books on spirituality. She works in the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. Email: email@example.com.