Spiritual homecoming and hospitality

Spiritual homecoming and hospitality

We are still thinking about the recent “Walking into the New Year” cloister retreat at the beautiful and serene St Johns Abbey guesthouse. And so we find ourselves looking back and looking forward, back to the retreat and forward to what is to come with Cloister Seminars.  In the next few posts, we will share some of these reflections.


For myself, I have been thinking about how our work and vision for our Cloister Seminars program takes its inspiration from a wide variety of sources: Christian monasticism, mindfulness research, Sufi / Muslim spirituality, medieval European healing traditions, modern empirical psychology, existential – dialogical philosophy and therapy, and much more.  How does one take such a disparate bag of sources and weave them together into something that is life-sustaining and not mere spiritual dabbling? A failing of much new spirituality is precisely this lack of integration.  It is as if there is no grounding framework into which a variety of new influences are welcomed.  It is like foam on the ocean rather than a well-cultivated garden.   As Almut said in her Hildegard cloister seminar last November, a developed tradition can offer us a place to integrate new ways of thinking with old spiritual longings and practices.  From my perspective as a Benedictine, I can receive inspiration from a variety of sources, and see what news those messengers have “from beyond.”

Any tradition, any spiritual house, will fossilize without being open to new influences, and it will not stand without some grounding.  Both tradition and openness are long habits of Benedictine practice.  And hospitality, welcoming the other, is a central aspect of Benedictine spirituality that points it outward from its tradition.  Benedict was very clear that monasteries should always have guests, should welcome them, and treat them honorably.

The Sufi spiritual teacher and poet Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī  makes a similar point, with more extreme imagery, in his poem “The Guest House.”  At the root of both Benedict’s insistence on hospitality, and of Rumi’s metaphor of the inner guest house, is the idea that to welcome some person or idea, one must first have a house, and even if the guests treat you and your house rudely, you should have the confidence and resilience to continue to let them in and to learn from them.   

I included a few lines from this Rumi poem in an earlier post about welcoming the guests that “cast us down” in our pride.  But this time the emphasis is on having a place, a tradition, a grounding to which one can welcome new guests.  I now read Rumi’s poem with new eyes as I am thinking of the new directions Cloister Seminars may bring me and of the old foundations of which it reminds me.


Suggested practice: As you read Rumi’s poem, think about the places in your inner rooms to which you are welcoming guests.  What is the foundation? What renovations or changes are the guests suggesting?  Can you, firm in your foundation, meet the new guests at the door laughing, and invite them in?


The Guest House
By Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī

  Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī,   Sufi Muslim Poet

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, Sufi Muslim Poet

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

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