Regarding experience and what it means for hospitality, from the book Radical Hospitality, by Lonni Collins Pratt:
Letting ourselves believe that our experience constitutes normality and that other ways of doing life are abnormal is delusional and dangerous (pg 105).
When we hold tightly to a worldview in which our experience is at the center, we live small lives. If we don't consider the ramifications of such a life we can easily slip into suspicion, misunderstanding, and prejudice of strangers -- those who do not meet our standard of 'normal' (pg.111).
God has been repeating this truth to me over and over, clear as day, lately. I don't know that I've ever heard Him so clearly on anything before. Well, except for when He assured me that He would mold Mr. Ford into the man that would become my husband. He is faithful!
But what these quotes reflect, and what I have been discovering from other conversations, things I've read, and time seeking God on the true meaning of hospitality, is that we MUST be open to hearing the stories and the experiences of "the other". (No, not "The Others", from "The Island"...calm down LOST fanatics.) But "the other", meaning anyone who is not you. No two experiences are the same and that is as it should be. But we cannot fall into the trap of believing that OUR experience is the correct one or the normal one. When we do that, we cut off our ability to fully, deeply, and truly love. We must dare to believe that "the other's" experience -- their story -- has something to teach us; that by opening up to those stories, we are in essence opening ourselves up to the Grand Story that God is telling through each individual person and that He has been telling from the beginning of time.
That's not to say that it is easy. It's a HARD thing. There is a sense of security in believing that everyone else's experiences are, or ought to be, like mine. But it is a false sense of security. Allowing other's experiences to be valid, rather than invalidating them by calling them "abnormal", is scandalous, actually. It opens us up to a greater capacity to be hurt, to be taken advantage of, to be walked on. It is grace. But what you discover as you slowly, tiny piece by tiny piece, begin to allow other's into your heart, your life and to really let them feel about a situation however they feel about it (rather than imposing how YOU would feel about that situation on THEM) is a thin place. Holiness begins to seep through the cracks and explode you wide open. I am beginning to experience these moments, here and there. They are glimpses of the Holy. And I find myself feeling, in those moments, more compassion, less anger, and the beginnings of a deeper understanding of the love that I think 1 Corinthians 13 is really speaking of.
Pratt says it so eloquently, so beautifully:
You will be tucking a child into bed, or pouring a second cup of coffee for you neighbor, or sharing a breadstick with your friend. You will be trying to know what is holy in us all and wondering how to be known by the Holy. You will have read a few books and maybe taken a workshop. You will have spent some time with people reputed to be experts on the subject of hospitality. You will wing it more often than not.
And then that splinter of light will get through the great mysterious confusion, who knows when or where or why, and grace will sneak up on you and you will know, if only for a splintered flash of a second, you will know that your trying is making a difference and your trying is enough (pp. 125-126).
Oh, that I might never stop trying, if only for those splintered flashes!