Hospitality to God?

*Longing to Welcome God and Symeon the New Theologian*

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love hospitality. I love hosting guests, and I love being a guest – whether it’s for a meal, a night, a week, six weeks, I love visiting and being visited. This semester, I will have five guests stay with me and I could not be more excited. The first just left, though she will return again in November, and her presence filled me with a renewed vigor for the semester. I enjoyed cooking again, because there was someone I love to cook for. I cleaned the house with renewed vigor, because I wanted her to have the nicest possible space. I spruced up my decorations, because I wanted to make the space welcoming.

This is a picture of being a guest – it wouldn’t exactly be fun if I showed pictures of me cleaning now would it?

Another guest arrives tomorrow – I stocked the fridge with his favorite things, cleaned all the nooks and crannies, re-organized my bookshelves so he would have a place for his books. I fixed the drooping posters, deep cleaned the oven-knobs, and put flowers in vases.

I am eager: bouncing up and down, so excited I cannot really focus on the pile of work I have to do. Who knows, I might even mop the floor a second time just because of the sheer enthusiastic energy. I have it particularly bad with this impending guest, but a version of this overwhelming and frenetic excitement hits me for each loved one who lugs their butt to Durham (or wherever I happen to be). I find new strength and new energy to complete more than the bare minimum when it comes to making the space nice and ready because they will be here. I prepare strenuously for their presence in the best way I can. I miss them acutely, feel their absence so keenly, in the days and hours before they arrive.

And, as I so keenly await and prepare for the arrival of a loved one, I can’t help but notice a startling contrast in how I treat the Lord. On the one hand, it is impossible to show true hospitality to the Lord: He made all things, including us. Our homes, our gifts, our lives are His already – how could we possibility welcome the Lord who already dwells unseen in all creation? “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord (Jer 23:24 NIV).

Yet, as Christians we believe that we are a Temple of the Holy Spirit and, by grace, the Body of Christ (1 Cor 6:19-20; 1 Cor 12). Through Christ, the visible image of the invisible God, Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (Col 1:15; Eph 3:17).

Symeon the New Theologian (1022), a Byzantine monk and hymnographer who lived in Constantinople, explores what this means in terms of hospitality. He writes in Hymn 15 on Divine Love:  

And so You are the Lord of David in the spirit/ and we are children of David all your divine seed/ and when we gather together we become one house/ that is to say all one family, all your siblings./ Is this not a fearful wonder? Or how shall anyone not tremble,/ when they understand this entirely, considering/ that You are with us now, and unto all ages,/ and that You make each person a home and You dwell within everyone,/ and You become a home to all, and in You we dwell/ each one of use entirely, Savior, with you entirely.[1]

Christ, our welcoming home in this world, makes each person a home. We can be temples of the Holy Spirit.

Village Church in Siġġiewi, Malta

Symeon the New Theologian longs to give room to God, longs for God’s presence, with an almost erratic intensity. He writes:

But when I would say these things and close my eyes/that is to say when I turn my mind to things below/unable to see or look upon your unbearable vision/then I am deprived of your beauty so I wail, my God/ unable to bear the separation from You Who alone are benevolent. When I weep and wail You shine all around me. Bless me. And I am struck down with astonishment, and I weep even more.[2]

The experience of longing for God’s presence is visceral, is physical, is overwhelming for Symeon. It’s a bit unnerving, a bit too much. The longing is so powerful it feels indecent and overwrought and dramatic and maybe a touch too romantic for my tastes. God is not just a friend to Symeon, God is the absent-but-close lover. That’s a bit weird for me, and hard to grasp.

And yet –

I can think of how keenly I miss my friends

How unbearable the separation from my partner feels

How eagerly I prepare for the arrival of the people I love

How lavishly I hope to love them when they’re with me

And it’s not the same feeling that Symeon feels for God-the-Lover, except maybe in the case of my partner, and yet there is something there.

I can wonder if maybe the love of hospitality, the longing I feel for my friends, the joy I receive from welcoming them – has something to teach me about one way loving God could feel.

Is this one way we could think about loving and longing for God?

How can we practice hospitality to God?

What would it mean if we longed for God, as we long for our loved ones? If we prepared for God as we prepare to welcome a dear friend or even lover who was far away for some time?



If you are not sold on the idea of monastic romantic writing about God, join the club! But if you want to see how this plays out, consider how Symeon writes of God, his lover:

For it is inapprehensible to everyone, uncontainable by the world And it is most desirable above the whole world, And it is yearned for, as much as God prevails above the whole Of visible reality, which he has prepared. This is why I am wounded by his love, insofar as He is not seen by me, I melt away in my senses, and groaning, I burn in my mind and heart I walk about, and I burn, seeking here and there, And nowhere do I find the lover of my soul. I often look around to see the one I desire, and He, as though invisible, is wholly unseen by me. But when I begin to mourn like one in despair, then He is seen by me and He looks at me, He Who looks upon all things. Amazed, I am astonished at the shapeliness of his beauty, and how the Creator stooped down when He opened the heavens and displayed his unspeakable and strange glory to me. Who therefore shall also come closer to Him? Or how shall one be carried up to the immeasurable heights? When I considered this, He himself was found within me, flashing forth within my wretched heart, illuminating me from all directions with immortal radiance, shining upon all my members with his rays, folding his entire self around me He tenderly kisses all of me. He gives his whole self to me, the unworthy, and I take my fill of his love and beauty, and I am filled full of divine pleasure and sweetness[3]

[1]Hymn 15.125-134 Simeon the New Theologian, Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon, the New Theologian, trans. Daniel K. Griggs, Popular Patristics Series 40 (Crestwood, N.Y: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010).

[2] Hymns on Divine Eros 15.11-18 trans. Griggs

[3] Hymns on Divine Eros 16.5-30 trans. Griggs






One response to “Hospitality to God?”

  1. Gene Capitani Avatar

    Thanks for the refreshing read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *