Hospitality on the Journey

Sep 12 / Alyssa Bell
This summer, my church gave me a sabbatical. As part of this time away from the daily tasks of ministry life, my husband Matthew and I booked a hike along Hadrian’s Wall in the northern part of England. In addition to a large portion of the wall, we also walked the last two sections of The Cumbria Way. In ten days, we tromped 108 miles. 

It wasn’t as simple as just walking 108 miles, of course. The airline lost our luggage (including hiking gear) and we had to hike the first 17-mile day in boots we had not worn in during our training walks. We got lost a few times and fell into frustration and irritability, with one another and with the guidebook. We also worked harder physically than we ever had in our lives and tumbled into bed each night wondering if we could make it another day. 

However, as we made our way through mile after mile, taking in idyllic scenes and ascending rocky hills, I began to breathe more deeply and think less about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. It felt like freedom. 

Many have asked me about a spiritual takeaway from this experience. I kept waiting for something profound to come to me, but the Spirit nudged me to recall instead the ordinary ways in which God showed hospitality to us. Author and pastor David Robinson writes the following in regard to the Benedictine way of life: “There is no distinction between ordinary life and sacramental life.”[1] So often the ordinary is the profound. 

I have a distinct memory on the walk of thinking “All I need to do today is walk. That is it!” In this way, God’s Spirit helped me lean into an incremental trust – moment by moment provision. This was my daily bread from God. 

Every night we walked up to a different Guest House, greeted by hosts who offered us welcome. One couple helped us find gear when ours was enroute from the airport, another made us a simple breakfast in their kitchen. We felt like family. Sammy offered us a foot bath at the end of a long hiking day, and Debbie made us the most amazing farm-to-table meal. 

The Psalmist sings: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”[2] God is our good guide on the journey, lighting the way in normal, embodied ways – through a reviving hot meal or a local pointing me in the right direction. 

On the last leg of our journey, we ended up walking in the middle of a 10K race. Runners weaved around us on the paved path. I wondered if they might find us an annoyance, but one of them waved and shouted, “Way to go! You’re almost there!” This runner ministered to my weary body and spirit, extending to me the hospitality of encouragement. 

It strikes me that God’s care for me on this walk was so…human. Physical stamina, food, soft beds, and a cheer to get me to the finish line. How many times have I expected God to show up in the form of a large neon spiritual sign, when God is waiting right beside me with something far better and much less flashy, reminding me of my need for God and for other human beings? 

And so, at the end of this period of rest, I put one foot in front of the other, a little more aware of the ordinary ways in which God’s Spirit cares for me and those around me every day. 

How has God shown you hospitality on your journey?
How might you show hospitality to another today? 

[1] David Robinson. Ancient Paths: Discovery Christian Formation the Benedictine Way (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010), 81.
[2] Psalm 119:105, NRSV
Alyssa Bell
Alyssa Bell is a tent-making Co-Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA along with her husband Matthew. They have two daughters, Theresa and Susie. While serving the church, which she loves, she pursues complimentary vocational avenues like teaching and spiritual direction. Alyssa recently completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and is in the Spiritual Direction Training Program through the Companioning Center. She has a heart for mothers who minister, either in a church setting or elsewhere. For fun Alyssa enjoys walking, making music, reading mystery novels, and completing puzzles.