November 14, 2008

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

A slice of pumpkin bread: How hospitality heals the heart

I can bring any mood to my grandma’s house, and it will be lifted in a few seconds as the door swings open and her arms spread wide.

I opt for hot cider and pumpkin bread. Grandma serves me the end piece, covered in frosting.

The crackling fireplace muffles the ticking clock that usually dictates my day. I can talk and talk; she will listen and listen, leaping alongside each remark and every emotion.

I leave with a lipstick smudge on my cheek, and a sureness that I am loved.

Lately, I have been reflecting on hospitality, a virtue that doesn’t get nearly the air time as charity or forgiveness, patience or moderation. It seems especially foreign, even antiquated, to young adults who hop from one small apartment to another, interacting at bars, entertained by Wiis.

“Do not neglect hospitality,” Hebrews 13 tells us, “for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Heb 13:2).

This neglected virtue can invite holy exchanges. And we can practice it every hour of the day—no matter the size of our bank accounts or our knowledge of Martha Stewart tips.

Hospitality is not just a virtue you exercise when hosting a party in your home; it is something you carry wherever you go, whether you serve or are being served by a worried waitress or exhausted cashier. It is not just about refilling empty glasses; it is about refilling confidence and restoring hope.

“Anticipate one another,” St. Paul tells us. “Exercise hospitality. … Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:10, 13, 15).

Hospitality takes many shapes and forms. It is a bobby pin quickly retrieved from a purse, a Band-Aid, a tissue. Fresh-baked muffins in a French-fry culture.

It is attentive listening, the kind that happens when you remove the iPod earbuds and embrace the moment.

We exercise hospitality when we confess shortcomings and crack dumb jokes to put others at ease.

Hospitality allows for honesty and whispered pleas for help. It lets us be our authentic selves and emboldens others to do the same.

It cultivates talent and calls people forward.

My first mentor, Terry, facilitated editorial meetings for aspiring young writers. Her bright blue eyes, rosy cheeks and generous laughter invited us to toss out story ideas without reservation. Under her guidance, we advanced along an unchartered path, from concept to first draft to publication.

And we kept writing.

Our priest, Father Mike, embodied Marty Haugen’s hymn “All Are Welcome.” He built us a new church and revived our spirit. New committees formed. New leaders emerged. Our parish grew by nearly 50 percent.

Dorothy practiced hospitality in my college cafeteria, scanning our cards and greeting us each by name. At least for a moment, her warm smile helped us forget that we were sleepy and stressed. She pointed disoriented freshmen to the stack of trays; she kept them moving forward.

Hospitality is a mark of affirmation, a signal that someone is special, like the ribbon bow on the baby shower invitation or the gold ink used to announce the retirement party. Little touches, big impact.

This brittle season begs for hospitality. The November chill keeps us inside, numbing us to entreaties for mittens and money, tempting us to stay in our sweatpants and live online. Stocks are plummeting, and heating costs are surging. It is easy to think only of our own burdens and bills.

But then our hearts would never grow and we could never entertain angels.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at

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