A few weeks back, I was honored to be the guest writer for the beautiful blog of my friend Lancia E. Smith. She asked me to share how I write through the dark times, so I had some fun rambling on a bit about my practice of writing in general. It is now my privilege to return the invitation, and welcome Lancia as my guest here at All Nine. Lancia is a writer, photographer, speaker, and business woman. She hosts the website Cultivating the Good, the True & the Beautiful. Founder of The Cultivating Project, a project dedicated to highlighting the lives and works of believing creatives, Lancia is currently writing two books related to the influence of faith-infused art in culture and the character formation of writers.
Hospitality and Cultivating
By Lancia E. Smith
When friend Kelly Belmonte invited me to write a guest post for All Nine she offered this inviting question as a starting point. “How does hospitality relate to Cultivating the Good, the True & the Beautiful?” (This isn’t a random linking by Kelly. I am host of the website Cultivating the Good, the True and Beautiful and creator the The Cultivating Project.) To clarify what I mean by the word ‘cultivating’ and the ideas behind it, I coined this definition, “Cultivate: to intentionally and habitually create the conditions necessary to flourish.” And when Kelly first mentioned it I could see at least one element that hospitality and cultivating share in common. But the more I’ve thought about it the more I see that hospitality really has everything to do with cultivating. Let me tell you why.
At its core, hospitality is the art and sacrament of making welcome. In turn, making welcome is the heart, soul, and bones of cultivating. Making welcome is the climate in which something is invited to flourish.
This is a door that swings two ways. In one direction it is inviting others into your home, your space, or under your protection … and offering them “a place at the table”.
The other direction though of that swinging door is the invitation to extend welcome to Beauty itself. I tend to visualize this process something like inviting guests in through the front door of the house while inviting Beauty in through the back door. But what does Beauty have to do with hospitality, you say?
A core element of hospitality is giving our best, as best we can, for the sake of making someone else welcome and comfortable, showing them in some tangible way that they are special and they are important to us. This is an age-old practice showing itself in every culture world-wide. We pull out the best dishes, we put on better food than we normally eat, we try to get the house as clean and presentable as we can. We have done this so long most of us do not remember why we do it and some may even feel that it is based on nothing more than putting on airs or trying to make ourselves look better than we really are. That may be true in some cases, yet I think that even in our most distorted motives lies the buried inclination to honour that ancient calling to offer our best to those in our care, however brief their stay.
In acts of hospitality we open an invisible door inviting Beauty into our homes to be made visible in keeping company with each other. The environment of beauty that we create is the climate in which our guests are welcomed; in giving the beauty of our best company to our guests we create the conditions in which our guests can give their best company to us. The practice of cultivating likewise begins with creating a set of conditions in which something we have chosen can flourish. When we cultivate we invite the specifically chosen into a specifically created environment for the purpose of thriving and flourishing.
Not all hospitality is an act of celebration. Some of the most important hospitality ever offered is in the way we care for others in darker moments of life – illness, loss, or death. Offering a place that is safe and welcoming – however humble – is among the most important acts of cultivating the good the true and the beautiful. A life can literally be saved by being offered a cup of tea at the right moment.
Not-surprisingly, the original word from which we derived our word “hospitality” is ‘hospital’. Seven hundred years ago when it was first used hospital meant “shelter for the needy” and wasn’t yet specific to medical needs. Our understanding of the word hospitality emerged out of meeting needs and providing shelter in the storms of life. It was care-taking within the context of space and buildings made to shelter those needing rest and tending. That idea is woven deep into the fibre of what it means to cultivate. Much of what is involved in the successful cultivation of anything often times begins with rescuing it from exhaustion or mending it when it is broken. And that is as true of people as it is of plants.
In well-practiced hospitality, choices are made about what we will share and what we will not share. Likewise, cultivating is a long series of choices about what to keep and what to remove, what will be featured and what will be gotten rid of, what will be nourished so it thrives and what will be eradicated so as to not hinder what we are growing or developing. As in all art, there is a defining boundary within which we create. The necessity of knowing and honouring our own limits is crucial to creating the conditions necessary for us to flourish, and in turn to create an environment for others to flourish.
To be hospitable means to protect as well as nourish, to shelter as well as entertain. Living in an open society for generations has caused many of us to forget this ancient responsibility of the host, but this is something still practiced in other cultures around the world to this very day. In hospitality it means making the space offered to a guest safe. In cultivating we protect what we are tending – plants, words, ideas, people – while rooting out the things that would harm or diminish the objects of our care.
To practice hospitality well means to pay close and careful attention. We pay attention to our environment, to the quality of the food, to the ambiance we are creating, and above all, to our particular guests. To listen deeply with focused awareness is a courtesy that we have all but lost as a culture. Paying attention means to open our eyes, lean forward toward another, forget oneself, and to allow another to come fully into view. In the practice of cultivating, paying attention is what allows us to understand what is required for thriving, not merely surviving.
Of all the elements involved in hospitality and in cultivating, however, being present is the most essential act. Whether it is a formal dinner table with sparkling stemware, an informal picnic on a beach, or a cup of tea offered while listening to someone’s heartbreak, the most important ingredient of hospitality is bringing our self fully to the moment and those we are sharing it with. In being our best selves – true, authentic, and paying full attention – we ourselves are filled with the present moment and are able then to share that with another. Practicing this kind of hospitality is not an art that is mastered in a day. We master it in small steps sometimes falling back when we’re too weary to stressed to empty to be able to give what we ought to. The commitment to learning how to be present and how to practice hospitality is a lifelong commitment. Just as we make a lifelong commitment to learning our craft, whether it is writing, cooking, painting, or swimming, the beauty of it lies in its long cultivation. The practicing defines and creates who we are and who we become. In the choosing to be present in the precious moment we are given, we cultivate truly what is good, true, and beautiful and make welcome the good company we choose to keep.