Culture At Large

Downed trees, excessive heat and the gift of hospitality

Karen Swallow Prior

When God was bestowing the gift of hospitality upon humankind, I must have been in the ladies’ room. They say a man’s home is his castle, but for this work-weary woman, home is my sanctuary, and I like it undisturbed. Hospitality does not come easily to me. 

But Christians - all of us - are called, according to 1 Peter 4:9, to hospitality, and we are instructed to offer it without grumbling. Notably, the word hospitality comes from a Latin root word that means both host and guest. Apparently, hospitality, like a message, requires both giver and receiver to exist.

This week’s weather-related power outages, which left hundreds of thousands of people from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic hot and dry, sorely tested the most hospitality-challenged among us. In a state in which the governor declared a state of emergency, my region was one of the hardest hit after a powerful derecho, a non-tornadic windstorm, left three-quarters of us without power. (Our home was in the very lucky minority.) With the storm came opportunities as plentiful as downed trees for neighbor to serve neighbor. And for the record, there were a lot of downed trees.

In the ensuing days, acts of hospitality have ranged in magnitude from mighty oak to tiny twig, cobbling together a refreshing shelter from the tempest of destruction and despair.

Acts of hospitality have ranged in magnitude from mighty oak to tiny twig, cobbling together a refreshing shelter from the tempest of destruction and despair.

In the mighty oak category is the help offered by churches, schools and other institutions to community members needing respite from energy-deprived homes during record-breaking heat. Thomas Road Baptist Church, a congregation boasting 24,000 members and considerable resources, provided shelter to pets and their people, set up a make-shift medical clinic, distributed hundreds of thousands of bottled beverages and provided thousands of meals and bags of ice. Likewise, Liberty University opened its summer-vacated dorms, dining hall, laundromat and ice-skating rink for relief.

And then there were the branches and twigs of neighborliness: ample sharing of chainsaws and sawyers; the folks who gave their food away before it spoiled in defunct refrigerators and freezers; a pastor who readied his home on hours’ notice for a displaced wedding ceremony; the father of two little ones and another on the way who began clearing neighbors’ yards before the neighbors had even awakened; and my own husband, who worked for hours to hook up a generator at the home of a friend’s father under hospice care and hooked to an oxygen tank .

And me? I got to hone my dull skills in hospitality by housing a family for a week in our garage apartment, offering our bathtub to another family with little ones and watching two young boys after their baby sister decided to be born in the midst of the storm.

And then there was one day in the middle of the power outage when all three families converged at our home for a cookout, showers and pool party.

If my home is my sanctuary, then my pool is the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, the place reserved most of the time for me to wash away the sins of stressful days and peopled hours in private. But on this day, laughing and splashing with a dozen people of all ages in my watery temple, I was reminded that the real purpose of any sanctuary for we who worship the Lord of Hosts is not isolation, but the true hospitality of fellowship.

What Do You Think?

  • What examples of hospitality have you witnessed/experienced during stretches of extreme weather?
  • Is there a distinction between hospitality and Christian hospitality?


Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Evangelism, News & Politics, North America