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Creating Welcoming Space

--by Sister Marilyn Lacey (Jan 05, 2015)


One way of measuring whether our love is genuine, however, is to examine how far we've extended the boundaries that determine whom we are willing to be in relationship with. When these borders reach out as far as they can go, there will be no one left outside, there will be no one cursed. There will be no more strangers. Everyone will be welcome.

Reflect for a minute on what it feels like to be welcomed. The word means, simply, 'come and be well' in my presence. It's a fundamental human experience, and a very crucial one. When I am welcomed, I feel good. I can be myself. I relax and feel unself-conscious, energized, happy. On the other hand, when I am not welcomed, I doubt myself, turn inward, shrivel up. I feel excluded, not accepted, and not acceptable. This is painful. If it happens often enough, I will question my own self-worth.

Hospitality means creating welcoming space for the other. Henri J. Nouwen notes that the Dutch word for hospitality, gastvrijheid, means 'the freedom of the guest.' It entails creating not just physical room but emotional spaciousness where the stranger can enter and be himself or herself, where the stranger can become ally instead of threat, friend instead of enemy.

[...] That precious experience — when contemplated, cherished, and celebrated — enables me in turn to welcome others: I begin to be less fearful of the other; I start to see the stranger as gift. I become willing to create space in myself to invite the other in, and I open myself to the possibility of being changed by the presence of the other.

I invite the reader to sit with any of the wonderful hospitality stories found in the traditions of all the great religions. Mull them over; ask God for insight into them. Then ask for courage to take small steps in expanding your own circle of hospitality. These might be as tentative as smiling at the stranger in line with you at the grocery store, as deliberate as hosting a get-together for all the strangers in your apartment building, or as dramatic as volunteering to foster an unaccompanied refugee child in your own home. It might not cost you much, or it might mean going out on a limb: Can you imagine yourself during Thanksgiving dinner speaking up to your brother-in-law in defense of the undocumented, pointing out that, really, everyone is kin to us, and everyone has a human right to live where they can support their own family?

Marilyn Lacey, R.S.M., is the founder and executive director of Mercy Beyond Borders, a non-profit organization which partners with displaced women and children overseas to alleviate their extreme poverty. Sr. Lacey is a California native, and has been a Sister of Mercy since 1966. This piece is excerpted from her book This Flowing Toward Me: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers.

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On Feb 1, 2015 Brooke wrote:

This is a wonderful reflective piece. :) Thank you for posting it! For those who are planning on using this as inspiration for a class or group discussion, I want to offer this song as a compliment to your lesson plan: Peter Makena's, "Be Welcome Here." Enjoy... B



On Jan 6, 2015 Cheryl wrote:

Creating Welcoming spaces for others!!! Wow how relevant to me this year.  Let me share some of my story.  On January 2/2012 my beautiful son Richard passed away tragically at the age of 22, just 5 days after a diagnosis of testicular cancer.  Our close knit family was of course devastated and in shock.  Somehow though, Richard continues to inspire me and help me to make something good come out of this terrible event.  In November of 2012 through as series of remarkable circumstances and connections, our family created "Richard's Reading Room"  at YESS (Youth Empowerment and Support Services) which is an organization that helps and houses homeless youth in our community.    I NEEDED to do something meaningful with Richard's extensive book collection).  But this space has become so much more than a quiet place to read.  I have heard it called a "sanctuary within a sanctuary"  by the staff there.  And one day when vis  See full.

Creating Welcoming spaces for others!!! Wow how relevant to me this year.  Let me share some of my story.  On January 2/2012 my beautiful son Richard passed away tragically at the age of 22, just 5 days after a diagnosis of testicular cancer.  Our close knit family was of course devastated and in shock.  Somehow though, Richard continues to inspire me and help me to make something good come out of this terrible event.  In November of 2012 through as series of remarkable circumstances and connections, our family created "Richard's Reading Room"  at YESS (Youth Empowerment and Support Services) which is an organization that helps and houses homeless youth in our community.    I NEEDED to do something meaningful with Richard's extensive book collection).  But this space has become so much more than a quiet place to read.  I have heard it called a "sanctuary within a sanctuary"  by the staff there.  And one day when visiting and reorganizing the books, I had an epiphany.  "Richard's Reading Room"  is a small safe, private space that can be used by 2-3 youth at most.  I realized how much I value my "alone" time, my ability to have privacy in my home, and how much Richard valued his home (he was a VERY introverted young man who, although he managed both work and school, needed to regroup at home).  Privacy is a commodity rarely available to a homeless person.  I realized that to be able to create safe, beautiful spaces for others, was what I wanted to do to continue Richard's legacy.  I am currently working on 2 new projects.  Refurbishing a playroom for an organization called "KIDS WITH CANCER",  and a family space at an assisted living facility for people with brain injury, dementia, and mental health challenges.   I am not sure how far this journey will take me, or even how we will find funding for these endeavors, but I believe this is my calling.  It is a way to bring my son's sweet, gentle soul forward with me, and a way to help fill the hole in my heart with love for others.  The hole will always be there, but if I can, even for a moment make someone's day more peaceful, or put a smile on their face, then the love I feel for my son will go on forever in the hearts and souls of others.  Namaste.

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2 replies: David, Cheryl | Post Your Reply
On Jan 6, 2015 Michael Williams wrote:

This is a timely piece as a I prepare to re-enter the classroom tomorrow morning after a 10 year absence. Today, I was shown the industrial portakabin that I will be teaching in. It was cramped, dark, and not particularly welcoming. So tomorrow, I have an opportunity to transform that space and my meeting with a group of young people who don't know me into a welcoming experience . . . and a place where we can all come to be well in each other's presence. Sister Lacey's words and your comments have inspired me. Thank you.



On Jan 6, 2015 Syd wrote:

This welcoming space is an important quality and appears everyone is awakening this within themselves on this site. I also feel welcomed here on this site where everyone is respectful of each others individuality and everyone is considerate. It seems everyone is allowed to find their own way in life on Awakening and is without anyone trying to be in control. I also feel on Awakening no one is using each other as a function of themselves or objects to be used for our own gratification. The space is this sharp sense of everyone's unique otherness, as well as the otherness of everything. Everyone appears sensitive and respectful of the individuality of each other. The message that everyone is valuable because we are each individuals is a welcoming space. On Awakening I experience the depths of everyone's heart where I can learn to simply and genuinely be myself. It is the clarification of my boundaries and borders.



2 replies: David, Amy | Post Your Reply
On Jan 6, 2015 Swara wrote:

The first thought that comes to me is - there is so much more that I can do. There is so much more love that I can put. I am thinking of the moments when I was welcomed with a big heart by known and unknown friends. I feel so encouraged to create a warm space in my heart and home. 



On Jan 5, 2015 Vibha wrote:

 To me it means creating and holding life nurturing space for the other person. And to me the key ingredients for life nurturing are - being fully present, listening, appreciating mindfully, respecting freedom, both in physical space as well as with regard to choices/views. Many times, I have experienced both, giving and receiving this kind of hospitality. One experience goes back 5 yrs back when I hosted a destitute old woman in my space and another one is when an adolescent created a welcoming space for me about 8 yrs back, which continues even now after becoming an adult. After reading this piece, I am getting ideas for an upcoming workshop I am designing for doctors working in governement hospitals, to address their attitude towards patients. I am going to use this, so thank you for posting.  



1 reply: Susan | Post Your Reply
On Jan 5, 2015 Sarah wrote:

Great timing for this piece.  I have been editing and updating my course syllabi for the coming semester of graduate level public health studies.  It is always a time when I get very reflective regarding the way I want my courses to help transform students (and them to transform me), the content (always changing), and the atmosphere (which is most appropriate for the piece on welcoming and hospitality).



On Jan 3, 2015 navinsata wrote:

 1. saint kabir when ever he helped needy his eyes whare at their feet,when asked why he did this his explanation was lord [narayna] comes in many forms to bless us [na jane kis roop mae mil jaye narayan] so i am surendering to his lotus feet. 2.meera bai favorite chanting mere tao giridhar gopal dusaro na koi [in her eyes only beloved krishna inside and out side everywhare. 3.bhagvad geeta shri krishna explains to us vasudev sarvam iti=every thing is form of lord so whole world is our family there is no others. he also explains divine virtues whare there is no ego, [amaanitvam] when we develop this virtues in action then we have realise infinite space within our self ,always love n.n.c. oh lord make me instrument of thy love



On Jan 3, 2015 david doane wrote:

"Be welcome" was the greeting I received from my mentor, partner, and friend.  He said and lived those words.  His name was Jim Guinan.  Being on the receiving end of his welcome, I felt wanted, accepted, valued, special.  I felt free to be myself and be open about myself.  I loved being with him, truly for how I was when I was with him.  It (he) was a life changing experience for me.  I went through a time of being angry that he welcomed and treated others the same as he treated me, until I got to the point of being happy that he welcomed everyone.  Then I got to the point of my becoming  more welcoming, more like him.  My boundaries of relationship and acceptance expanded.  He has died in body, but he and his welcome are still very alive in me, and help me mindfully create spaces of welcome.   I revel in the times I say "be welcome" and am welcoming and someone feels accepted, safe, valued and free to be open with me.   See full.

"Be welcome" was the greeting I received from my mentor, partner, and friend.  He said and lived those words.  His name was Jim Guinan.  Being on the receiving end of his welcome, I felt wanted, accepted, valued, special.  I felt free to be myself and be open about myself.  I loved being with him, truly for how I was when I was with him.  It (he) was a life changing experience for me.  I went through a time of being angry that he welcomed and treated others the same as he treated me, until I got to the point of being happy that he welcomed everyone.  Then I got to the point of my becoming  more welcoming, more like him.  My boundaries of relationship and acceptance expanded.  He has died in body, but he and his welcome are still very alive in me, and help me mindfully create spaces of welcome.   I revel in the times I say "be welcome" and am welcoming and someone feels accepted, safe, valued and free to be open with me.  When I personally am not welcomed, I don't necessarily doubt myself, turn inward, shrivel up, feel excluded and not acceptable.  No one and no experience can make me feel that way, though it is a lot easier for me and anyone to doubt self, shrivel up and feel unacceptable when not welcomed.  I know the experience of my being deeply welcomed is a major factor and resource within me in my not going into a tailspin, at least not most of the time, when I am not welcomed.  I hope I inspire that in others, and my saying and living "be welcome" is a good start.

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On Jan 3, 2015 Abhishek wrote:

 A welcoming space has to be an empty space i.e. empty of 'me' (where typically I tend to be full of 'my'self). The empty-Me space is where the other person truly can walk in as themselves, unjudged, without expectations of having to be something or behave in a certain way. And that emptyness shows, not in the first smile perhaps, but in how we respond when the smile is ignored or not reciprocated. At such a time, if there is a shrinking or disappointment, the space I created still have a little bit of 'me'. But the deeply welcoming space welcomes even the ignoring of the smile as lightly and easily.... Ahemadabad, SF and actually all of our ecosystem tends to be such a space - and one of the reasons for that, I feel is that we forget 'ourselves' and center the space on the other. In that erasing of ourselves (in a manner of speaking), we let the other person BE themselves and therefore truly truly experience themselves and the love that they are....and what a transformative expe  See full.

 A welcoming space has to be an empty space i.e. empty of 'me' (where typically I tend to be full of 'my'self).

The empty-Me space is where the other person truly can walk in as themselves, unjudged, without expectations of having to be something or behave in a certain way.

And that emptyness shows, not in the first smile perhaps, but in how we respond when the smile is ignored or not reciprocated. At such a time, if there is a shrinking or disappointment, the space I created still have a little bit of 'me'. But the deeply welcoming space welcomes even the ignoring of the smile as lightly and easily....

Ahemadabad, SF and actually all of our ecosystem tends to be such a space - and one of the reasons for that, I feel is that we forget 'ourselves' and center the space on the other. In that erasing of ourselves (in a manner of speaking), we let the other person BE themselves and therefore truly truly experience themselves and the love that they are....and what a transformative experience that is!

Just as in physical hospitality having a larger house helps, in true hospitality, having a largeness of spirit does.

To me, when Somik mails in with a few comments from last week highlighted, that is also an act of hospitality - because it is a welcoming into the space of Awakin each time we come here! Ditto with the SS smiles and comments :)

I hold the intention that we expand this space to include the whole world! :)

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On Jan 2, 2015 Smita wrote:

During the time I spent in the Bay Area, Hawaii, and in India, I had the great privilege to experience feeling soooooo welcome into many friends' homes.  These experiences have touched me deeply and helped me to see that it's possible (and even preferable!) to break down the boundaries of locked doors, or "my home" vs. "your home."  There were some homes where I knew I didn't even have to call in advance, or even knock on the door...that I could just walk in.  These experiences gave me such a warm feeling of belonging that helped me relax and be myself.   I have so much wanted to create an environment like this for others, but I have to admit it's not something that comes easy to me.  A lot of fear comes in the way, and I hesitate.  I really want to grow in this way, though.  What I liked about this passage is that it gives many ways (even small ways) to be more welcoming.  That opening your heart to someone you've never met while standing in li  See full.

During the time I spent in the Bay Area, Hawaii, and in India, I had the great privilege to experience feeling soooooo welcome into many friends' homes.  These experiences have touched me deeply and helped me to see that it's possible (and even preferable!) to break down the boundaries of locked doors, or "my home" vs. "your home."  There were some homes where I knew I didn't even have to call in advance, or even knock on the door...that I could just walk in.  These experiences gave me such a warm feeling of belonging that helped me relax and be myself.  

I have so much wanted to create an environment like this for others, but I have to admit it's not something that comes easy to me.  A lot of fear comes in the way, and I hesitate.  I really want to grow in this way, though.  What I liked about this passage is that it gives many ways (even small ways) to be more welcoming.  That opening your heart to someone you've never met while standing in line can be one way.  Or just being really present with someone, with all the time in the world and nowhere to get to, can make that person feel welcome and "at home" in themselves.  Just the other day I was thinking it would be sweet to invite foster kittens into my home!  Maybe I'll try that.  :)

It's not always easy being in this world, and what a precious gift to make someone feel that they really *belong* here, even if it's just for a moment!

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On Jan 2, 2015 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Creating welcoming space for others means extending our hearts and souls outward and realizing that as we allow ourselves to Know strangers,  there are no strangers. I've lived this way for several years and it's made all the difference whether through sharing Free Hugs with someone or conversation on the streets with homeless or couchsurfing (staying in a stranger's home while traveling or hosting a stranger in my own living space). Creating welcoming space offers so many opportunities for our own hearts to expand and grow. It brings so much more joy into our lives. It has now transformed for me to serve others to share their Story; whether of survival or hope or overcoming adversity or innovation, it is providing a welcoming space for someone to speak and be listened to. And then sharing the stories with others. Transformative! Grateful!



On Jan 1, 2015 sheetal V wrote:

Creating welcoming space for the others to me includes everything from physical space of dwelling to being present for the person in any moment. I love hosting people and offering them space that will nurture them and make them feel at peace. This gives me an opportunity to look within and see how available I am for everyone who comes. My granny used to say "people will come to you only when you have open , trustworthy and loving energies" so it helps to check whether I am that. I have been through experiences when people have turned cold and not available to listen to my heart and at those times I felt being available to listen also creates a warm and trustworthy space for others. When I had a question of "why should we create such and such a space for others?" the Answer came "Your journey is not your own and that there are is an array of happenings that allows it to unfold, so when you create such a space for so called "others" you are actually creating a loving environment for you  See full.

Creating welcoming space for the others to me includes everything from physical space of dwelling to being present for the person in any moment. I love hosting people and offering them space that will nurture them and make them feel at peace. This gives me an opportunity to look within and see how available I am for everyone who comes. My granny used to say "people will come to you only when you have open , trustworthy and loving energies" so it helps to check whether I am that. I have been through experiences when people have turned cold and not available to listen to my heart and at those times I felt being available to listen also creates a warm and trustworthy space for others. When I had a question of "why should we create such and such a space for others?" the Answer came "Your journey is not your own and that there are is an array of happenings that allows it to unfold, so when you create such a space for so called "others" you are actually creating a loving environment for your journey to be supported and nurtured." 

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On Jan 1, 2015 susan schaller wrote:

Henri Nouwen also described Hospitality as "the creation of an empty and safe place for all to discover their gifts to share."  This, along with the finding out that the original Latin and in modern French, "hospitality" refers to both guest and host, I was prepared. I left my community and home and have been traveling by train, bus and foot for most of the last year, discovering that where I go, I find my people, for we are all related.