invitations are tricky things. they can cause joy (“oh look, i got invited!!!”) and pain (“oh no. i wasn’t invited.”) and many things in between (“i’m not sure how i feel about being/not being invited.”). sometimes expressed hospitality doesn’t matter much and other times it is of great import. while we usually know what invitations mean to us i wonder how much we consider what they might mean to those we choose to include or not.
i was recently invited to an afternoon with a friend. mid way through our time together she brought me to the center of a bustling chicago suburb where an outdoor labyrinth sat between a church, a post office, a park, and lots and lots of apartments. her intent was that we would walk the labyrinth, at least in part, to seek Wisdom about some new developments in my life.
if you’ve never been introduced to the labyrinth, a few words might be in order. labyrinths are maze like walking paths that are common in most religious traditions. those that i have encountered begin at the outside of a circular pattern and guide you to a center from where you retrace your path all the way to the same spot you began. labyrinths are often used in devotional manners to help center the mind and body and provide assistance in focusing. when i, personally, walk them i typically do so with a mind toward what i need to release (and leave in the center where, for me, i focus on God) and what i might like to take from Wisdom and Love as i leave the center and go back out into the world. this is simply one way of framing a labyrinth experience and many others can be found with simple google searches.
taking a few moments to get still, kim and i sat and took in our surroundings. she asked if there was anything she could hold in her thoughts and prayers for me as she walked the spiral to the middle. i shared a few and then we separated to move, at our own individual paces through the scripture garden/memorials and labyrinth. i moved to the labyrinth with intention, inviting the sounds, sights, and feeling of the wind to be a part of my experience. about half way through my inward journey i became aware of two adolescent young men sitting and talking on a bench nearby. they had arrived via skate boards and were laughing, swearing, and joking loudly. there was nothing but pure adolescent energy exuding from them. unwavering in my love of unique moments, these two friends and their banter became a part of my labyrinth experience and as i stood, still, prayerful, and receptive, in the center of the spiral, i glanced over to see them giggling over some image on one of their phones. for some reason, i felt like giggling with them. their light hearted unabashed presence in the moment felt tangible and contagious.
when i sat down on the sidewalk at the end of my walk i noticed them gathering up their backpacks and boards and imagined they were leaving. instead, as kim emerged from the labyrinth, they bounded toward it, entering it excitedly. while their pace was fast and playful, they walked faithfully into the center without cutting a corner. as they departed to grab their bags we asked if they might take a picture of us. more than happy to oblige, kim engaged them as we posed for our photo. she asked if they walked the labyrinth regularly and, when they said, “no...we just saw you guys doing it and it looked cool” she proceeded to give them a very short description of the historical and spiritual significance of the experience. without missing a beat, one said to the other, “we have to do it again! thanks!” next thing we knew they were back on the path, moving slowly, one with eyes nearly closed, looking only at his feet and the other looking up with hands outstretched, palms up, as if receiving something from the heavens. we were dumbstruck. for as long as we could see them they continued to walk in, and then out, among the sounds of sirens and dogs and people and life.
without even knowing it, kim invited these two young men into several new spaces. first, she invited connection. i’m guessing that these particular individuals are not frequently handed phones by middle aged white women who want their photos taken. in doing this she communicated a deep sense of value and respect for who she imagined they would be. second, she invited experience. not even i thought to share with them information that would provide them opportunities for a deeper experience with this neighborhood landmark. by doing this she assumed the best of them and spoke to their insides and their potential. third, she invited them to depth. the reverence with which they entered the labyrinth the second time was something to behold. even if they never walk it again they walked it once with slow receptivity and intent.
sometimes it is necessary to limit the way we invite. if we tend toward poor boundary setting or don’t do well tending to our selves, it may be important to watch the way in which we do or do not invite others. my guess, however, is that each of us experiences opportunities to healthily invite those around us into newness more often than we ever even recognize. this reticence can come from a lack of confidence on our own part (who in the world would be interested in doing x, y, or z thing that i love/am interested in?), a sense of limited resource (if i invite others will there be enough for me?), a fear that by inviting others we may lose our special knowledge/gift/skill (if i share this experience what will be left that makes me special?), or more. accounting for these unconscious “halting mechanisms” and assessing our ability to invite without it costing too much (emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually, financially, etc) might free us to find spaces to invite others into.
there is mystery involved in invitation and the mystery is this: the impact of hospitable encounters goes both ways. sure, kim invited these two people into newness, friendship, and experience, yet we received gifts commensurate with those that we offered. our day was made exponentially richer as a result of our encounter. not only did it feel meaningful to be part of a cross generational, cross gender, cross cultural encounter where everyone was valued but the gift of seeing two young men experience peace and reverence and newness and depth in the middle of their bustling, familiar neighborhood touched us in profound ways. we actually hovered, teary and smiling, recognizing we were experiencing a holy moment. not witnessing it...experiencing it.
and so i ask you, how might you experience such moments by inviting others into newness alongside of you? hospitality goes beyond the home by settling into you and expressing itself in invitations large and small to those around you. for inspiration, i offer you the following and hope that you’ll share your ideas as well. let’s not stop inviting until everyone has been given the opportunity to be seen and valued and welcomed and expanded and more...so much much much more.
some ideas to get you started:
invite a good day for those you pass by smiling at them and making eye contact.
invite praise for those that serve you (at the store, a restaurant, etc) by completing a comment card (with their names written on it) at customer service or at your table.
invite a new idea into your life by exploring it a bit. even if you end up rejecting it, it will help your flexibility and empathy to do so.
invite someone who needs a conversation into one. if you need to set boundaries in order to make this healthy for you, then do so. give yourself a set time then engage the conversation, knowing that whatever attention you can healthily give to this person is a gift and that ending it when you need to is acceptable.
invite a school aged child or adolescent to an activity you imagine that they would enjoy but might not normally be invited to. if they aren’t connected enough to you for it to make sense to accompany them, offer to buy/procure tickets for them and an important grown up in their life.
invite others to volunteer with you on a given day or for a given project. for ideas on volunteer options in your neighborhood google “volunteer opportunities” and the name of your city and state.
offer a movie time for a film that interests you and suggest a coffee/drinks/discussion time after at a nearby restaurant or park. resist the notion that the number of people who respond is what matters. instead, believe that it’s the inviting that matters.
find a free community concert, lecture, or event and invite others to attend with you.
identify someone in your community who could use some help in their yard, around their house, with their children and invite a friend to invest an hour helping you help them.
host a “makers night” or a “useless skills party” and invite a variety of ages of people. for a makers night people can come as either a maker or learner or both. the makers teach a skill to the learners on the schedule that you come up with. participants can bring all supplies and the group can reimburse. for a useless skills party each person brings a useless skill to teach the group (think flicking bottle caps, making darts that can be blown through pvc tubes at targets, learning the “single ladies” dance).