“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Two chairs for friendship

As much as Thoreau appreciated solitude, he said of himself, “I am naturally no hermit,” and he welcomed visitors.  I admire people for whom hospitality is an ingrained virtue.  Perhaps because I struggle feeling comfortable in large groups and among strangers, I greatly esteem those who can extend a warm welcome to visitors.

“If it were not for guests all houses would be graves.”
— Kahlil Gibran

“The ornaments of your house will be the guests who frequent it.”
— Author unknown

I find that I can take large gatherings, even of beloved family, in small doses.  I am a better friend in one-on-one situations.  I am afraid that the following quotes resonate too well with me:

“Fish and visitors smell after three days.”
— Benjamin Franklin

“Visitors are insatiable devourers of time, and fit only for those who, if they did not visit, would do nothing.”
—  William Cowper

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even if you wish they were.”
— Author unknown

Perhaps I should rid my house of all but three chairs, so that, like Thoreau, when I have visitors in larger numbers, they stay only as long as they can stand!  I’m joking, of course.  One of my tasks in this life is to learn to be more gracious, and this includes making more of an effort to become a better and more welcoming host to any future guests.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
— Hebrews 13:2

Guest Houses

August 3, 2010

 “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  (Matthew 35)

Wall of light and shadow, St. John's Abbey Guest House

On the final morning of the retreat, I was given an unexpected gift.  Tricia walked with me to Morning Prayer, and as we arrived before 7:00 a.m., she offered to give me a quick tour of the Abbey Guest House, which was next door to the St. John’s Abbey Church.  (We stayed in the Institute’s apartments, not in the Guest House.)  I think the Guest House is now my favorite place of all the beautiful spaces on campus.

Benedictines are known for their hospitality, and they have created a guest house that is welcoming, bathed in soft light, and simple and clean.  We peeked into the dining area, library, and downstairs corridors.  There was absolutely no clutter, so instead of looking at things, you became aware of the play of light on the walls, floors, and ceilings. 

Tricia and I are both quilters, and the linear and grid-like wall features reminded me of quilt studies in dark and light fabrics.  I was enchanted with this building.  Someday I’ll have to return and spend a night or two.

Another wall of light and dark

The regular intervals of light down this corridor are reminiscent of more traditional cloister walks.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
    — Rumi