Faith Matters: Living the practice of Hospice-tality

  • Rev. Don Erickson of the Hospice of Franklin County, 321 Conway St., in Greenfield. January 11, 2018. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rev. Don Erickson of the Hospice of Franklin County, 321 Conway St., in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • The Community Church of North Orange and Tully. November 24, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Pastor of Community Church of North Orange & Tully and Spiritual Counselor at Hospice of Franklin County
Thursday, January 25, 2018

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

Hotel, hostel, hospital, hospitality, hospitable, hospice.

These words all share a root: “host.” As in, Let’s host a get-together! In essence, all of the words above — from hotel to hospice — go back to the idea of being a good host.

Interestingly, the root word also means guest. Host and guest in Latin culture were interchangeable. Pondering it a bit, you see host and guest go together. Whether you are a host or guest, the way of acting and being is the same. To make someone in your house feel at home and to treat another’s home with the same respect you treat your own, they come from the same spiritual space, a spiritual place of sharing. In this way, we make the lovely Spanish phrase a reality: Mi casa es su casa. My house is your house.

Hospitality is what we are getting at. Hospitality as a spiritual practice, both in its giving and receiving.

Sometimes we are the host. Sometimes we are the guest. But whether we be a host or guest, the expectation is the same: Be hospitable. We are to encounter each other as if we are both sharing a home, which we are, of course. In this home we share called earth, when one person is uncomfortable or sick or dying, we feel it and we take care of them.

As a hospice chaplain, the notion of hospitality is especially prescient. If I were to give a poetic definition of hospice, it would be that hospice is the giving of shelter to someone amid the storm of their terminal illness. Hospice care could easily quote the words of Bob Dylan and mean it: “In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm. ‘Come in,’ she said ‘I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.’”

The hospice philosophy is that everyone deserves to die with dignity. Indeed, everyone deserves to die with — and live in — dignity. Our sharing the earth as our home, being at once host and guest, depends upon it.

One of Pope Francis’ themes before and since his inauguration as pope was his vision for the church in a new age. A couple years ago, Francis said this:

“This is the mission of the Church: the Church heals, it cures. Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital … This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good, God forgives all … [and] always waits for us.”

A field hospital and hospice share much in common. Both go out and care for those needing care. A field hospital is curative. Hospice is palliative. But both are outward-focused, centered on bringing care to those needing shelter from their individual storms.

For ages and ages, preachers like me have preached the virtues of hospitality. Hospitality indeed is a virtue and necessary. However, too often we think of hospitality as a passive act, as receiving guests and acting the good host. But hospitality cannot be just passive. It must be active, too.

The danger when hospitality is only passive is that we stay at home too much. We wait for people to come to us. From the comfort of our home we write checks to Habitat for Humanity or homeless shelters. Certainly, these are good things, but we cannot forget the need to go into our communities to meet the homeless where they are, bringing the shelter of human connection in our interactions.

Hospitality means sometimes being a good guest. It means entering another’s living space gently, seeing the humanity and dignity in people and in where they are. Another “h” words comes in here — humility. Practicing hospitality is an active practice of applying humility, openheartedness and compassion in the course of our human interactions and connections. In going into another’s living space or receiving others into ours, the practice of hospitality remains true.

My house is your house. Let us share together this human life in humane, humble and hospitable ways. This is what the spirit of hospice teaches me most profoundly as a minister and as a human being.

About the church

Community Church of North Orange & Tully is grounded in the Way of Jesus and affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are Open, Welcoming, and Affirming. We journey together, seeking to include all and asking all to walk with us. We believe God is Love ever with us, still speaking through various things — friends, nature, music, art, a theorem, the Bible, and in so many other ways. Please join us Sunday, 9 a.m. at 48 Main Street in North Orange. Visit www.community-church.blogspot.com to see more about us.