by Christine Sine
God has spread out for our delight a banquet that was twenty billion years in the making. A banquet of rivers and lakes, of rain and of sunshine, of rich earth and of amazing flowers, of handsome trees and of dancing fishes, of contemplative animals and of whistling winds, of dry and wet seasons, of cold and hot climates. But it is a banquet that works, this banquet called creation, the human planet. It works for our benefit if we behave toward it as reverent guests. (Matthew Fox Original blessing 112)
I have not been able to get these words out of my head this week. Every time I looked at a cloud formation, gasped in awe at the beauty of Mt Rainier or wandered my garden exclaiming at the beauty of the flowers, I thanked God for this incredible banquet twenty billion years in the making. Then I looked up at the stars, reminded of the incredible NASA photos of the place where stars are birthed. This banquet we call creation is incredible, and we are its guests, invited to admire the mystery of it with all our senses – looking, listening, tasting, smelling, touching – eating and drinking of the wonder around me.
Embracing the wild hospitality of God was my theme over the last few months. It revolutionized how I look at God, the world and our commitment to it. The concept of stewardship, so often used to define our relationship to the rest of creation seems so inadequate. It gives the impression that we are the ones in charge, responsible to look after all else that God created. God is seen as an often strict and critical master. There is no sense of mutuality, no recognition of the need to listen to the creation and consult it in what we do and how we steward.
If however I recognize myself as both a guest in God’s world and a host for God’s world my attitude changes. There is a sense of mutual relationship, of intimacy both with God and creation that is quite profound. I am a guest not a steward. My whole life is a generous gift of God’s lavish bounty. Beauty, abundance, joy, generosity and love, all these I receive from God and much more. All these are gifts to me of hospitality and caring. Gifts that I am responsible to share with all the other guests at the table – not just the human ones but also the animals and plants of God’s good creation.
Last week, in her article God’s Hospitality: Hosting and Guesting, Elaine Breckenridge asked: What does it mean to behave like a revered guest at the banquet God has created for us on our planet? The word “guest” invites me to consciously tread lightly on the Earth. Being a guest on the Earth has a more intimate feel to it than “being a steward of creation” or “reducing my carbon footprint.” It speaks to me of finding ways to reverence the Earth in the same way that indigenous people do.
Fox goes on to explain another stunning aspect of the hospitality of God – in the Eucharist God then becomes the banquet for us. When we share communion together we share the life of Jesus. The bread and the wine given from the earth, made by human hands to be shared with love and generosity are part of the banquet of God’s hospitality, and the sharing of them is an incredible opportunity to thank God for the amazing banquet of our lives. It is also more than that, however. It is a sharing of Christ’s life, and a commitment to live as followers of Jesus. As we share communion together, we are reminded of and celebrate together the life that Jesus shared among his community throughout the centuries and shares with us today. We are reminded and give thanks for Jesus the banquet feast of God who nourishes and sustains us in all that we do.
Last but certainly not least, according to Fox, God does not stop here.
God not only plays the host for us and becomes the banquet for us; God also has become guest for us. This is one of the deep meanings of the incarnation, that God let go of hosting long enough to become guest as well. It is as if the human race could understand the hosting side of hospitality, but the guesting side, was becoming more and more difficult to grasp. Love is not just setting the table and going out food; love is also the receiving end of the banquet. And for this the human race begged an incarnation, a fleshy enactment of the guesting side of God, of holiness and of hospitality. Jesus is an excellent guest, a true revelation of God’s guesting side. (Matthew Fox Original blessing 113)
Jesus is the guest who waits to be invited into our hearts and into our lives, inspiring and transforming us so that we long to become like him sharing our lives and our resources with those at the margins, those who need healing and those who need to see the love and generosity of our incredible God.
There is another dimension to this idea of God as guest I grapple with. It is easy for us to see God as our host, but God as guest is another matter. I am both inspired and stunned by the thought expressed by Richard Middleton in his book A New Heaven and A New Earth that our purpose is to transform the whole earth into a fitting place, a hospitable place, not just for humankind to dwell, but also for God to dwell. Can you imagine it? God longs for a beautiful place where all creation flourishes and enjoys abundant provision, a place in which God, too, feels welcomed and comfortable, able to walk once more in a hospitable relationship with humankind.
What is the appropriate response from deep within the human person to this banquet of blessings spread before us so lavishly? Fox asks, “True holiness, full hospitality, lead to gratitude.” Thankfulness and gratefulness bubble up inside us when we consider the wonder and mystery of a God who is both host and guest in this world. It is a thankfulness that seems to fill the whole universe and reverberate through every part of each ancient yet fresh day creation in which we find ourselves.
Take time today to get out and feast on the incredible banquet God still spreads for us. Feast your eyes on the wonder of cloud formations, listen to the wind whistling in the trees and the melody of birds around you. Stop and inhale the fragrance of the air after rain, run your fingers over the lavender and inhale its wonderful aroma and taste the fruit and herbs around you.
After your walk, sit in a quiet place and contemplate the wonder of a creation banquet feast that was twenty billion years in the making. Is there a response God is asking of you?