Setting out on pilgrimage makes one dependent on the hospitality of others. The pilgrim will need a place to sleep and food to eat. If he or she is traveling with children, the demands are greater. And if the pilgrims are not wealthy, they will often experience the humbling grace of receiving gifts which cannot be repaid. I believe this experience of hospitality - entrusting oneself to the kindness of God's children scattered throughout the world - is one of the most transforming aspects of pilgrimage.
I have known many Americans with remarkable gifts of hospitality, but traveling in Europe has challenged my concept of what it means to be a host. We first experienced European hospitality while visiting the Mileys in 2011. They graciously explained that guests do not pay for meals in Germany. We were to relax and eat and enjoy. That was an uncomfortable lesson for me, but a necessary learning ramp for this year.
When we arrived in Vienna, the Heimbuchers asked what we would like to see. The children voted for a trip to the zoo which sounded like a good activity after being shut indoors for several days. I had some vague hope that we would be able to rush ahead to the gate and buy tickets for everyone, but when I saw Hans ordering tickets at his computer in the morning, I knew I must except this gift with humility and thankfulness. The following day we stopped at a traditional Viennese coffee house for cake in the afternoon. Thomas asked if he might treat everyone. Hans replied gently but decisively, "I'm afraid that is not possible."
Hans and Elisabeth have poured themselves out for our family. They have prepared amazing meals at beautiful tables. (Clara is completely enchanted by the flowers on all the dishes. )They have walked miles in the heat serving as our personal tour guides. They have opened up three rooms in their apartment for our family's use. But the greatest gift they have given is simply their presence. Here is another quote from Adrienne von Speyer.
Prayer should leave its stamp on a person's total attitude toward life, and it should make the one called into a kind person, a loving person who infects others with his love. They ought not only to feel loved; the question itself of love should awaken in them: "What is the nature of a love that can transform that person in such a way? How could I myself acquire such a love? How did he ever come upon it?"
Though I am no stranger to prayer, being with the Heimbuchers calls forth these questions in my heart. When my children think back on this visit, I am sure similar questions will occur to them. I am confident that the scores of pilgrims and visitors who have passed through the Heimbuchers doors have had a similar experience.
I look forward to seeing the reward God has in store for those who practice the ministry of hospitality on earth.