Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hunger and Hospitality

I am thinking about the monastic practice of hospitality and how that practice translates to other, non-monastic, non-overtly religious settings.  I'm thinking about the small college campus where I work.

I'm also thinking about the intersection between hospitality and food.  We've always been a hospitable campus:  when you get off the elevator into our lobby, you'll be greeted by at least one person at the front desk.

Of course, that's partly hospitality and partly safety.  We want to make sure that we know who has arrived, and we want to make sure that visitors know that we know.

I have been impressed with the way we greet returning students with the start of each quarter, but yesterday, I decided to go a step further.  For the morning students, I bought granola bars, bananas, and tiny, seedless oranges; I think they're clementines, but they go by lots of names now.  For the evening students, I put the fruit back out along with plates of cookies that a friend of mine picked up at a Winn-Dixie going out of business sale (I have 4 cases of cookies, and each case holds at least 16 packages, so I have plenty to distribute).

I got lots of positive feedback throughout the day.  I heard that students loved having food and loved the atmosphere.  That's one major reason why I did it.

I also did it because I know that students across the nation are more at risk of food scarcity.  I know that students are often rushed in the morning and even if they have food at home, they often arrive to campus having had no breakfast.  I'm also looking for ways to help those students who could use a few more food opportunities throughout the week.

But I'm mainly looking for these kinds of opportunities to create a sense of warmth and hospitality.  I want our school campus to have the kind of effect on students that Jan Richardson describes in a recent blog post:  "My experiences in Ireland gave me a new glimpse of the power of welcome, of what can happen when someone gathers us in and invites us to be at home when we are not at home, or have had to leave our home, or do not know where home is."

Many of our students are moving through harsh landscapes where they are not loved or affirmed.  I want our campus to be a shelter in the storms that swirl around them.

Can granola bars do that?  Yes, if they're part of a larger, intentional vision, one that Jesus taught us so long ago and that monks have continued to embrace.  You can't address deeper hungers if you don't address the more immediate physical hunger.

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