Greek Man sitting at table
The sun was starting to set as we wandered around the streets of Aegina, an island off of Greece. We weren’t planning on spending the night on the island, but the little town was beautiful and a late night adventure back to the mainland didn’t sound appealing. Hoping to find a comfortable, inexpensive and safe place to crash for the night, we ran into an old gentleman smoking his pipe on a narrow street a few blocks from the center of town. As we walked up, his face immediately lit up and he greeted us with a toothless smile.
We were thousands of miles away from home, yet this little old man (he couldn’t have been over 5 feet tall) welcomed us as if we his is long lost children.
After offering us some café (coffee) in his thick Greek accent, we realized he had been sitting outside of his home/business. He and his wife owned a little hotel that might have even been older than he was. We asked him his name and he invited us to check out the hotel while again offering café.
Pavlov wasn’t much of a businessman. We really needed a place to stay and his place looked like a good fit for the evening. By the time we walked up the stairs and back to the front desk, he had cut the price of the room in half and offered us another cup of café. I don’t think he was desperate for customers and his insistence wasn’t creepy. I think Pavlov genuinely wanted us to feel at home in his home. And, I think he really wanted some conversation partners for his next cup of café.
We dropped our stuff off in our tiny room and as we headed out for dinner on the town, Pavlov smiled from ear to ear and said, “Go have fun and let me know when you get back so we can sit have a cup of café and conversation.”
As we walked away from Pavlov, it felt as though we were walking away from home.
Hospitality is a spiritual discipline. It is central to the story of the Hebrew Scriptures (not only for their own, but for aliens and strangers) and the context that allowed Jesus and his early followers to share the Good News all over the region.
Hospitality isn’t valued as highly in Western culture as it is in many other parts of the world. After sharing a meal in the home of Palestinian friends in the West Bank, they said the act of sitting at their table made me their brother. For them, you never deny someone a place your table…even if they are your enemy. It would be a greater sin to turn someone away than it would to dine with an enemy.
Understanding hospitality as a spiritual discipline creates all sorts of challenges for Christians in the West. It is a new paradigm in our understanding of national borders being extended to aliens or strangers and adds significance to the simple act of opening our door to someone in need (physical or emotional).
We slept terrible that night in Pavlov’s hotel. I might as well have been sleeping on a slab of concrete with a placemat as a pillow. But we were home.