The view of the ocean from where I am staying is beautiful. I can hear the waves crashing on the shore and a part of me wants to go play in the water. But I can’t get my mind off of the fact that my house might be burning down as I enjoy the view. My kids are the forth generation to live on the property and we might very well be losing everything except what’s in the three cars packed feverishly while the flames appeared on the tree-line in Ben Lomond. It’s the waiting to hear bad or good news that is so difficult.
Covid19, forest fires, evacuations, looting, online education, closed schools, power outages, no cell phone reception…being overwhelmed by factors that our out of our control wrecks everything. Aren’t the daily challenges of personal life enough? Waking up late, unexpected traffic, unrealistic project schedules at work, uncooperative family and friends, too many commitments, social-media distractions, news-feed updates, the house is a mess, the pet pooped on the floor, doctors appointments between sports practices, dinner didn’t get planned, now we’re all late for getting into bed, and the alarm clock just ran out of batteries.
And then… “I’m sorry, Father Thaddaeus? Are you going to suggest that, along with all the regular challenges of life, I need to be helping the people evacuated due to forest fire as well?” Deep breath. It’s going to be okay. No unreasonable request is going to be made. Let’s just take a minute and adjust our psychosomatic antennas a bit. There are a lot of people in need right now. And we have to reflect a bit to find the truth within the opportunity.
A long, long time ago, when humans roamed the earth in a manner more akin to Adam and Eve in the garden, when families lived in a village and spent most of their time simply planting, harvesting, and storing up goods for the winter, the virtue of ‘hospitality’ would be better expressed by the phrase ‘maintaining a [good] state of being’ or ‘life-sustaining’. The stranger one encountered on the street, or unexpectedly knocking at one’s door, was in bodily need: food, shelter, rest, or clothing. Being ‘hospitable’ meant literally ‘caring for a guest’ in such a strong sense that, when applied to medical needs specifically, it evolved into the word ‘hospital’ to denote a place of healing.
Hospitality is a virtuous and voluntary effort to extend healing to those around us, to fix their problem; those brought to us by chance, or providence, who are in need of care. For those of a Judeo-Christian background, our willingness to be hospitable is a revelation of our own spiritual state and moral integrity: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mathew 25).
Usually, given our abundance of food, clothing, and shelter (let alone extravagant and captivating entertainment options) the hospitality we engage as Americans is more relationally focused. We do not usually host friends or strangers for their material sustenance. In the past I have encouraged people to offer hospitality for the sake of freedom from the hunger of soul, quenching of spiritual thirst, relief from loneliness and isolation, or covering the nakedness of emotional vulnerability.
Being relational creatures, our spiritual, emotional, and psychological needs most often begin their healing in relationship: sharing a meal, over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, while on a walk, having a play date, and every other ‘social,’ but ultimately relational, occasion.
But right now, in Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley, we have a tremendous material need for hospitality. Tens of thousands have been evacuated and we are dying to get back to our homes. We are irritated at law enforcement who are just doing their job. We want the fire fighters to work harder even though they have been heroic and completely exhausted themselves saving thousands of homes. We want the Santa Cruz store owners to stop reminding us to wear a Covid mask even though it's the law.
Yet, stressed out and irritable as we are, we need our capable neighbors to extend to us hospitality; to make any effort to help us return to a healthy and normal state of being, to heal us from the wound this fire has created. We need your help specifically in being housed for the next few weeks. We need discounted hotel rates, and continued Air B&B support, and protection from gouging prices, looters, and opportunists. Is your hotel pet-unfriendly? Make an exception. Has the income from your beach house been steady? Offer an evacuee discount. Do you sell building supplies? Prepare to offer special support for those certified as having suffered from the forest fire. We don’t want anyone to bear an unfair burden. But we deeply need your hospitality. Let’s get it fire up!
Father Thaddaeus Hardenbrook (MA, MTh) has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley since 1973, attended SLV high school, Cabrillo College, UCSC, and San Jose State before turning his studies from literature to pastoral theology. Having grown up in Boulder Creek, he now resides in Ben Lomond with his wife and four children, and is the senior priest at Saint Lawrence Orthodox Christian Church, Felton.