Nanette Sawyer’s Hospitality the Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome

In the midst of her book on cultivating hospitality, Reverend Nanette Sawyer recalls a meditation retreat she attended years prior. As the retreat closed and attendees lined up to receive the blessings of the spiritual teacher, Sawyer felt an uncontrollable craving for a moment of personal contact with her. Ignoring the line of devotees in front of her, she frantically waved a personal card she had written and repeatedly called out the teacher’s name, each time a bit louder, in the hope of catching her attention.

When finally the teacher turned her attention to Sawyer, entirely ignoring the card she held in her hand, she felt in the teacher’s darshan, or blessing gaze, the reflection of her deepest self back to her, allowing her to ground  and solidify those parts of herself that felt she needed some form of external validation.

We often think of hospitality in the context of opening one’s arms to friends, neighbors, and strangers. Instead, Sawyer uses the story to demonstrate the power of another form of hospitality, that of making room for and welcoming the hidden, harder-to-accept dimensions of oneself. The teacher’s gaze held Sawyer in a receptivity to her self, in all its darkness and neediness, and to make them equally welcome in her psyche. It allowed her to face the aspects of herself she had been trying to escape. It allowed her to do something she encourages her readers to do as they foster hospitality with family, neighbors, strangers, enemies, and creation itself: to face her own deep estrangement.

Sawyer’s book is not an especially original work, but it draws together many different kinds of human experience under a three-part model of hospitality that joins an essentially inward attitude, “receptivity,” with a way of being with others, “reverence,” and with the outward actions that spring from “generosity.” In so doing, and with a selection of practices that permit reflection on hospitality to self, others, creation, and God, she helps us think about ways of staying open and of creating a home for all