The intangible benefits of hospitality
"What life have you, if you have not life together? There is not life that is not in community, And no community not lived in praise of God."((1. TS Eliot. (1934). Choruses from the Rock.)) ~TS Eliot
I never gave much thought to what my home looked like, growing up in a Latino family in an urban center, until a visit from my friend Laura when I was in college. We were sitting on our front porch after dinner; the air was crisp with the faint smell of café brewing, the hum of a few cars in the distance, and the chatter from a TV. Laura looked up and down the quiet street at the two-story brick row homes and then back at mine, and she asked, "Are we still in Camden?" I chuckled as I responded in the affirmative, but understood this environment was quite different from the stereotypical noise, chaos, and unfriendliness that many people associate with a city. My home did not share the brokenness that was so evident even a few streets away where Laura lived. She leaned back in the chair with a warm grin and said, "It's nice and homey."
My friend's words awakened me to the blessings of a home. I realized for me, the city is home, insofar as it is a vibrant community of people who stand beside one another providing support, love and friendship. Home has always been a place filled with people: my immediate family—Mami, Papi and my four siblings—but also my cousins and godparents who lived next door, as well as other family members who made habitual appearances. Whether it was a mid-day visit just to say hello, or an evening cup of cafe con leche with crackers and cheese, or the month-long stay of a relative or friend who was new to the area, each visit served to make our house a home. Home was a place where the welcome mat was followed by a Dios te Bendiga and a warm hug.
While the night Laura came over was indeed a quiet one, our home is frequently filled with movement of people coming and sharing, music and singing, talking and praying. This is the city that I know--a warm place, not entirely lacking strife, but with a strong-willed, close-knit community determined to not let disorder rule our behavior. Instead, there is much prayer. Prayer and faith are at the center of our home, and I am convinced it is what made our neighborhood as strong as it is.
As a child of parents who migrated to the US in their late teens, much of my family remained in Puerto Rico. As such, those relatives who were near combined with our church family to become our family. In Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins, Dr. Conde-Frazier describes the significance of the church for immigrant families: "The congregation is a place to remake familia and a sense of stability and community in one's life...the new extended familia of choice." This familia of choice are people who not only share your faith but an understanding of culture, customs, and language, all walking together adapting to the new.((2. Conde-Frazier, Elizabeth; Pérez, Zaida Maldonado; Martell-Otero, Loida I. (2013-01-15). Latina Evangélicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins. Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.))
Some of my earliest memories are of a group of women who took turns hosting prayer meetings. These ladies became second mothers to me and sisters to one another. They taught me compassion as they cried with those who mourned senseless deaths or served those who lost all they had. They were comadres. The title refers to godparents, but also to relatives and close friends who committed to walk with you in this journey, help you with decisions, pray, cry and laugh with you and look after your children. As children, we expected that loving care, occasional reprimand and most definitely a Christmas or Dia de los Reyes gift!
In this familia of choice, I learned to pray and that prayer takes faith. I also learned that with the support of this faith-filled community, we grew in strength and courage, believing that God was able. He was able to provide and He did. He was able to heal, and He did. He was able to make a busy and broken city into a loving neighborhood. It was here that I learned, as Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Elizondo say it so well in Who Is My Neighbor?, that "Love requires the presence of others...The best context for practicing Christian life is not solitude, but the company of others."((3. Elizondo, Virgilio; Gonzalez, Justo L.(2007). Who Is My Neighbor?: Christian Faith and Social Action. Abingdon Press.)) This reality of family – both biological family and familia of choice - made a difference and Laura noticed it: our row house in the noisy, chaotic inner city was peaceful, "nice and homey."
Image above from Flickr user lydiashiningbrightly via Flickr Creative Commons license.
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