Heidi’s Week Four chapter in Holy Solitude is about hospitality. I couldn’t help reading Sunday’s section, “Welcoming Guests,” in light of the pandemic. It’s been a year since Gary and I have welcomed people into our home. When friends visited over the summer we met outside on our deck, where sweat dripped liberally in July and August. Gary opened our garage door so they could use the hideous but clean bathroom off of the garage instead of the one we usually offer guests. He also bought a commercial-grade fan and carefully positioned it to blow air away from each other.
I miss having people inside my actual house even though, as Heidi mentions, it can be stressful to try to frantically clean before they come over, given that we have a dog with her toys, beds, and hair all over the floor. Even though I’m an introvert, I genuinely enjoy having people in my home and going into the homes of others. Whenever I have visited a parishioner inside their home or led a house blessing, I feel like I know them better because I have seen where they live. I remember how hard it was for my parents and me that they never got to see me in my last three residences. “I want to picture where you are when we talk on the phone,” my mom said. Technology helped with our current home, where we’ve lived for ten years: at one point I walked around using Facetime to show my parents each room. My mom was dismayed to see that I kept the dish soap by the sink in the kitchen and harangued me about putting it underneath the sink. (“Just tell her you did it,” my father muttered when she asked me about it in subsequent phone calls.)
Finally, before moving on from hospitality, I have to mention the hospitality fail of Jael in the Old Testament. We first encounter Jael in the fourth chapter of Judges, when she welcomed the fleeing army general Sisera into her tent and then drove a tent peg into his temple while he slept. I didn’t learn this story in Sunday school as a kid, so I was fascinated when my friend Dana, who is not Episcopalian, found herself teaching the story of Jael to children at her church. You can read about her experience here: What Jael and her tentstake taught me - Reformed Journal: The Twelve. I am not surprised that Heidi didn’t mention Jael in her hospitality section.
I have been surprised over the years by how much I enjoy reading about Saint Benedict, who merited several pages in Holy Solitude. Heidi writes that Benedict lived for three years as a hermit in a cave, and eventually a monastic community formed around him, leading to the creation of his famous Rule. If the thought of reading a monastic rule bores or intimidates you, check out Joan Chittister’s The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the Twenty-First Century, which offers her commentary alongside the rule. Benedict’s rule may be helpful during a pandemic, when we see fewer people but those of us who live with others are in closer quarters with more togetherness than in the past. I know I can use some guidance on how to peacefully and fruitfully cohabitate, even though my husband is practically perfect.
Only one more week before Holy Week begins. I can’t wait to see what Heidi has in store for us. What were your reactions to hospitality and Benedict or other parts of the book this week? Please chime in in the comments.
What I’m Writing:
I got really sick of the snake on a stick readings last Sunday, so I decided to preach about Harry and Meghan. My sister Wendy, watching the live stream from Arizona, said she kept waiting for me to tie it back to the readings, but I never did. Last Sunday’s sermon here.
What I’m Reading:
Holy Solitude, of course! Reading and writing about it here every week of Lent.
I mentioned an older essay by Dana VanderLught above, but this week she came out with a new one, Huddled with “The Dwarves in the Stable.” I get discouraged as a memoirist with an MFA in creative nonfiction, so take comfort in these words from Dana from this essay which just came out this week: “For those of us (writers, preachers, teachers) who often delve into the territory of publicly telling family stories, Buechner offers a pathway: stay focused on yourself and your struggles, even as the story involves others around you. In this way, the writing does not feel narcissistic, but quite the opposite. When Beuchner looks into the mirror instead of looking around the room to point fingers at others, there is a care and a trust that is forged, allowing him to hint at a larger truth.”
I devoured Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. I have read a lot of cancer books since my diagnosis and even read and even reviewed some before I was diagnosed myself (see this review, which was published a year before my first diagnosis ). I think Between Two Kingdoms was perhaps the best of the cancer memoirs I’ve read, and realize after reading Dana’s article (above) that it isn’t because of any new wisdom or insight but the particularity of Jaouad’s experience as a young person diagnosed with leukemia shortly after college. The book depicts not only her harrowing ordeal of a bone marrow transplant followed by years of chemo but also what happened next. Cancer memoirs typically end with the author getting better or dying (often in the epilogue), so a significant section about readjusting to life made this one stand out, especially to me at this point in my own life because I’m living it. I can’t go back to “normal,” so, how do I adjust to what life is like now? Jaouad’s book also has a lot about the caregiver dynamic, which I appreciated.
Jane Harper, The Survivors. I enjoy murder mysteries and was excited to see this one on the “Too Hot to Hold” shelf of my beloved local library because I had been on the hold list for weeks and was still something like number six. I stayed up past my bedtime on Wednesday to finish it and took it back yesterday so that someone else can have a nice surprise on the Too Hot to Hold shelf.
A Thousand Ships. Just picked this up from the library yesterday when I returned The Survivors. It’s about the women of the Trojan War—and not just the Trojan women. When I was about ten I read a kids’ book from the 1950s about the Trojan War (which I still have) and have been captivated by the topic ever since. (I don’t know why the book captured my imagination since my other favorite books at that age were A Little Princess and Green Poodles.) As an adult, I loved Euripides’s The Trojan Women and Madeleine Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles. I’m enjoying this one so far.