After I returned home from Continuing Committee of Illinois Yearly Meeting in the winter months of early 1999, my mind held the picture of the table spread for potluck supper prepared by members and attenders of the host meeting, St. Louis (Mo.). Community formed as we gathered to enjoy the food. Laughter, serious talks, people and ideas intermingled. Friends in St. Louis opened their homes to those of us who lived too far away to return to our own homes that evening.
My host family cheerfully gathered my friend and me into their van for the ride home. They opened their doors and opened their hearts. The warmth that filled this Quaker home was immediately evident as we were enthusiastically greeted by the family dog. We settled into the living room and the children shared their talents with gifts of dance, music, and jokes. While everything was low-key, I knew that this busy family
had taken the time to change the beds, provide the towels, and set aside the time for hospitality. The next morning, after a good night’s sleep under warm, wonderful blankets, I was given tea and homemade breakfast cake with apples and orange slices. The mother and I had time to talk; we shared our spiritual paths. The father took us to the airport, and again, we had time to open our journeys. It was a grand visit. I returned home feeling cared for and nurtured.
Thoughts of other visits with Quakers made over many years throughout Friends General Conference and Illinois Yearly Meeting started running through my mind. So many generous Friends have provided hospitality while I was traveling on committee work. I see that we shared not only bed and breakfast but our life experiences. We were often given opportunity to share from the heart and Spirit. I have grown aware that this tradition goes back to the earliest travels among Friends. It goes back to the first century of the followers of Jesus. Hospitality provides a ministry of love.
Travel combined with visitation has enriched my life. I remember the time when I shared a room with a Friend I had not met before. We were discussing the events of the day when we looked up and beheld the
starry skies right over our beds! It was a glorious sight. Our delight and laughter broke any walls we had between us. We shared Quaker thinking and actions within our different yearly and monthly meetings until far into the night.
Each home presents an environment that is particularly its own. A recent widow and I sat in a blessed silence after she shared her journey of grief and loneliness. We were held in a gathered meeting with God. A peace flowed through us that I will not forget. To this day she remains a role model when adversity knocks at my door.
I think of the couple who was struggling through the life transition of the empty nest syndrome. They lived in a suburb of Philadelphia. The feelings of out of balance were present in the home. We talked over tea, bit by bit opening our hearts in the common parent dilemma of how to fill in the gaps when the children are gone. We discussed the state of their meeting and the decisions they were facing as the meeting grew with new attenders and new focus.
One of my most tender memories springs from a visit to a home in the Mid-west. Seedlings were sprouting on every windowsill well before planting time. There was a general happiness in the air. On Sunday morning we sat down for breakfast. After we held hands in Quaker grace, we sang hymns together. What a lovely way to begin the day. We shared memories of our individual experiences at Pendle Hill and our present journeys.
Visiting provides those moments of opportunity for getting in touch with the lives of people you would never meet. It opens the opportunity for sharing inward journeys, for discussing the perceptions of the Truth, for speaking to someone from "away" concerning the joys and problems within the monthly meeting. Visiting provides a time for opening the heart as well as the door to make space for the wind of the Spirit to move through us.
I give thanks to the many persons in our community of Friends who have given the hospitality of their homes and families, who have shared their journeys, provided a bed for rest, food for the body, and nurture for the soul.