On the pilgrim way: “Visitors are a privilege, a blessing – and a challenge”
We have just had a spate of visitors from my German family. I love the prospect of visitors and enjoy getting the spare room ready with towels and flowers. However, I realise that, with age, I find the disruption of our normal pattern of life more difficult to cope with. So, visitors are a privilege, a blessing – and a challenge.
First came four 19-year-olds, all volunteering for a year in Belgium and wanting to have a weekend “doing London”. Morning and evening the house was full of life and laughter while they emptied the fridge and the fruit bowl. Then came a brief visit from Anne, a 45-year-old teacher of 16-year-olds from very poor backgrounds. We were most impressed by her dedication to her job, her passions (for historical re-enactment and for cooking) and her general zest for life.
Next came my favourite (very left-wing) cousin and his wife. To celebrate his 80th birthday I had organised a tour of our UK family. We lingered over late breakfasts talking about family things and – somewhat carefully – discussing politics and the news. Their high principles – by which they live – made me worry about the origins of the food I served them, but they never commented. Their intense interest in everything and everyone they saw gave me new perspectives. They were impressed by the fine old deciduous trees in a nearby estate – the oaks, the chestnuts and especially the walnuts dating from the 17th Century – and they took packs of tea home, because tea in Germany does not taste right. But they were very critical of the new houses going up here, with detached being the most desirable, and high fences to ensure privacy. They support flats and more communal living which takes up less precious land and encourages community spirit.
However, their critical spirit never extended to the family members they met. They delighted in hearing each person’s story and receiving such a range of hospitality. Radical socialists they may be, but they are not doctrinaire, and their enthusiastic interest in everything and everyone was inspiring. It was also exhausting: Shopping and cooking for four is harder than for two. Of course, they wanted to help and insisted on cooking one meal. We sat in our sitting room – instead of the two of us cosily in our tiny conservatory. We watched a good documentary together – but then had to discuss it critically!
As the days passed, my cousin and I talked more personally about family situations and about where we found ourselves at this stage of our lives – and I remembered why he is my favourite cousin.
The letter to the Hebrews urges us to show hospitality to strangers (visitors?) because we may find ourselves entertaining angels unawares. I think we have been blessed by a spate of angels – but Hebrews says nothing about how exhausting angels can be.
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This is an extract from the June 2015 edition of Reform.