In preparation for talking about our Universalist heritage, we’ve asked people to listen to Rob Hardies’ John Murray lecture from General Assembly in 2006. Rob challenges us to practice radical hospitality, to open our hearts and welcome strangers with the kind of open hearted love with which Thomas Potter welcomed John Murray. “Welcome, my friend, I’ve been waiting for you for a long time,” Potter said when Murray arrived, broken and shipwrecked. Admirable as it sounds, practicing this kind of radical hospitality can be a hard task, a stretch from our comfortable habits.
Thinking back to when I was “the stranger” helps, though. At the end of the turbulent ’60’s, I relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico from the East Coast to teach in an alternative school there. I moved with a man I later married, so I wasn’t altogether alone. But we hardly knew anyone. We arrived in Santa Fe shortly before Fiesta, which is a very big deal there. It starts off with the burning of Zozobra, a great fireworks display to dispel Old Man Gloom. On someone’s advice, we drove up into the brown, juniper-covered hills to watch the spectacle. Sitting on a blanket, waiting for darkness, we discovered that people were joining us –people we had met at the school, people we had run into as we explored our new community. They seemed like old hands, having lived in Santa Fe for a while – three months, a year, five years – and they welcomed us as instant friends. This congregation of people on the side of the mountain became our community, our family, later sharing our wedding and Thanksgivings and the birth of our son. It was a miracle of hospitality for us, giving us the warmth of community to support our new lives so far away from our families.
Radical hospitality goes beyond just welcoming the stranger, though. It asks us to open our hearts to other’s ideas as well, and to welcome the presence of love in every encounter. The other day I had a phone conversation with my non-church-going brother, who was raised Unitarian but has a somewhat skeptical attitude about my “religious” life. I was telling him about Wellspring, and he asked if I was a “believer,” which started us talking about what we both believe about God – and I discovered that we’re closer than either of us had thought. We share more in our beliefs than we would ever have known if we hadn’t opened ourselves to this discussion. Welcoming the opportunity to listen to each other gave us a new understanding and appreciation for the other. May all of our encounters be open to the unexpected presence of God.