The art of hospitality in conversation
By Miriam Westfall
Lydia Hiorns is a local artist in the North East of England. She works with a gallery called Shield Field ArtWorks in Newcastle and has intentionally practiced and researched hospitality over the last few years. Miriam, from Agapé UK, asked Lydia a few questions.
M: So Lydia, how would you define hospitality?
Lydia: I guess most people think it’s either inviting someone round to your house for dinner or going out for dinner at a restaurant, but actually I have a much wider view on what hospitality is. I think it’s about making room for others in your life; whether that’s some kind of [physical] space ‘room’, or ‘room’ in your time. We often are very busy so that’s quite a big area where we can make room for people.
M: How has your faith impacted your hospitality?
L: We see God being hospitable as part of his nature and character in the Bible. He definitely makes room. We see that in the way He made creation. He could have just been happy with Him and Jesus and the Holy Spirit chilling together as the trinity but He wanted to make room in that relationship for us to come and be part of that. He made us space – a physical creation where we could live and be part of that with Him.
You also see Him making room for us after our relationship with Him broke down. He designed the process of redemption and being brought back into relationship with Him, through what Jesus did on the cross. We see such graciousness and generosity in the way that He does that. That’s how I see hospitality.
Also, recognising how Jesus was around people. Most of how He went about doing things was eating food with people. Someone said, “Jesus is either coming from, at, or going to a meal” – which is pretty true if you read your gospels. So there’s something about making room; something about openness and generosity and really grace filled actions.
M: Have you found any connections between hospitality and conversation?
L: I think there’s a lot! We have to be intentional about making room in conversation. There are lots of different aspects of this. There are different language barriers, like French, English, German, whatever languages you speak. But there’s also different cultural contexts in the way that we use language, and grace has to be embedded within that. We have to make room for others within that.
And we have to be gracious. There are going to be communication difficulties and there’s going to be times where we don’t understand one another. Hospitality has to make room for other people to have conversations with us.
I think also there’s this: one of our deepest desires as humans is to be known and to know. And in order to do that we need to share of ourselves, and the best way we know how to do that is through talking to each other. Someone once said to me, “The person in front of you has an entire lifetime for you to mine the depths of,” and we’re just not very good at doing that. Often the way we chat to people is… they share an anecdote, and we think “Oh, I know an anecdote that is even better than that, I’ll share that one!” It’s like one-up-manship, or we end up getting into arguments. We can’t just be and sit with that person and listen to them. So I think in order to mine someone’s depths we need to ask good questions and we need to be able to listen well in conversation, in order to know somebody. Hospitality has a place within conversation there.
M: I really love that image of creating space in conversation and inviting that depth out of people. Do you have any practical tips to apply that?
L: I’ll start with questions. When you meet someone for the first time, even someone that you’ve known for a long time, there’s still more to mine. There’s still more to know about that person. So think about the type of questions you ask and allow those to be open questions. Then the person can respond in the way they feel comfortable with and it doesn’t feel like an interrogation.
Also, just generally, we need to be praying for compassion for people. We can grow in all of these conversational techniques but if our heart is not for people it’s not genuine. It’s wanting to know them for who they really are rather than thinking, “I need to look good; I need to think of a good question to ask this person because then I’ll be known as a good conversationalist.”
We need to pray for compassion to care for the person in front of us. We need to pray that we will be wise in how we speak and loving to those that we just find really difficult or tend to have arguments with regularly. In Colossians it says, “Let your conversation always be filled with grace and seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.” If we have compassion for people and we are gracious in our conversation, then it will be seasoned with salt. We’ll have something worth saying or will take time to listen.
M: Love your insights on ‘mining’.
L: Get your pick-axe out!
M: Do you have any final thoughts on hospitality in conversation?
L: Technology is a fabulous tool. The way that we text is kind of a conversation as well. But I think if you’re in the physical presence with somebody often we are either on our phones subconsciously or we’re just doing it because that’s what we usually do.
There’s a Glaswegian spoken word artist and he says “Stop checking your phone when I’m talking to you for every word that escapes these lips is a part of myself given to you.” When we are checking our phones in the physical presence of someone it’s quite hurtful and it does not lead to good conversation or good soul-nourishing with the other person.
So I think a challenge is to be without your phone when you’re in the presence of other people, when you’re on the bus, in the park or you’re walking. Take your headphones out for a week, see how that is, and see if you interact with people better and have good conversations.