Forget not to shew love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. HEBREWS 13:2
In spring 2010 the climate change activist Adam Weymouth walked 3,500 miles from London to Istanbul. It took him eight months. (A plane takes four hours.) He went through twelve countries, three seasons and two pairs of walking boots.
One thing that struck him on his journey was the warm hospitality he encountered - particularly in Muslim communities. Most religions have a tradition of hospitality, but none more so than Islam, where the principle of hospitality is a duty not only to the stranger but also to God. This faith in and openness to strangers he found both heartening and moving. It's something that we suspect is disappearing in many countries and cultures, so it's wonderful to find this natural and human core of hospitality very much alive. I found it thus on the Caminos I've walked, and I'm delighted to find it experienced by Weymouth here.
Without delving too deeply into its linguistic derivation, the word 'hospitality' implies a relationship between a 'host' and a 'guest', a relationship which nowadays tends to be seen as one-way, ie the 'host' gives and the 'guest' receives. But at one time the two roles inherent in the word were synonyms rather than antonyms. After all, a 'host' needs a 'guest' in order to give (to fulfil his or her human duty and duty to God), and a 'guest' needs a 'host' in order to receive (and we all need to learn how to receive gracefully, which, strangely, we often find more difficult than giving). When you think about it, we are 'hosts' and 'guests' all the time, in some way. Giving and receiving are the basis of our daily interactions; both should be done with dignity, grace and a light touch.
Weymouth viewed his momentous walk as a chance to challenge the culture of fear, the distrust of strangers, that seems to be a given in a world where we are increasingly denied the opportunity to interact with the unknown. Perhaps opening up one's home and opening up oneself to strangers is a risk - but it's a risk that holds the promise of a deeply satisfying reciprocality. In others we recognise ourselves; and in ourselves we see others. I know of no better way than a pilgrimage, secular or not, to remind us that we are dependent on strangers, writes Weymouth.
Walking seems to me like one way of trying to recognise all parts of this world, in sickness and in health ... The people and places I saw stretch out from where I write this now, not as unconnected parts but as a continual thread. It is this that seems to show that both the good and the bad of my journey, the environmental destruction and the beautiful landscapes, the recent wars and the incredible hospitality, are all part of my world, and, as such, must be embraced.