Monday, June 20, 2016

Open Heart, Open Home: The Hostess & Hospitality {Guest Post}

Today I have the honor of hosting the lovely words of my lovely friend Shirley.  Shirley couldn't have chosen a better title for her guest post- her open home is an outward extension of her open heart and kind compassion for those she meets.  It has been a privilege to be welcomed into Shirley's home for dinner parties and celebrations, and I could think of no one better to write about the art of food and hospitality.  I hope her thoughts inspire you to think of your table as a place of ministry and your home as an opportunity to better love the souls in your life. 

Open Heart, Open Home: The Hostess & Hospitality

I’m the type of person that tends to have a myriad of soapbox topics and things I like to speak passionately about, but none so much as the philosophy behind the meal, communion shared while eating and “our daily bread.” While I could probably write a whole book on the topic, here I will share some thoughts on why the details of your next dinner party are worth making beautiful.

I love to create nourishing, delicious, beautiful food and warm, inviting spaces. It’s my art. I’m sure there are plenty people out there who like to “wing it” and clean out the fridge when they are having people over for dinner. Those are wonderful people, but I am certainly not one of them. For me, having people to my home is an experience. I prepare for their visit with extensive planning, prepping, and cleaning. This time spent, very literally, becomes an act of love for the person or persons who will dine with me later in the evening. Most of the dinner parties I have hosted have themes and several courses. I’m often chided for going over the top, but I wouldn’t know any other way. It is the way I pour out my heart. Here’s where we dive a little deeper. Edith Stein, amazing Catholic saint and philosopher, wrote this about the soul of a woman:

“Women must become broad, tranquil, emptied of self, warm and transparent. Only hearts that are emptied and silent can be penetrated by grace, with its power to form women into the loving persons they are intended to be.”

“What does this have to do with hosting a dinner party?” you ask. Well, seemingly nothing. But if we look a little closer, it’s obvious. Women have been created in a particular way to nourish and nurture life. The disposition of our hearts, as described above, should be a warm place where all are welcome and feel loved. That is the “genius” of the feminine (see more on that here). This should also be the environment of our homes insomuch as we can make them. When we are literally welcoming people to our homes to nurture them in friendship and nourish them with food, we see an even closer connection between the spiritual and physical aspects of hospitality. I imagine the home at Nazareth had this feel to it. Our Lady made it so. Opening my home has also given me the opportunity to grow in virtue over the years. The purity of my intention to serve the other, and not my own ego, has been refined. I think this is what Edith Stein means about emptying our hearts- everything we are is given to those we love and serve and it turn our hearts are open to receive whomever the Lord wills.

The interior disposition is so important to hosting, but so is the practical! Below are my top 3 tips for hosting an enriching evening (mostly learned through trial and error).

1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew (pun intended :) )

I’m definitely guilty of getting in trouble when I try too many complicated or intricate recipes at once without adequate time to pull them off. So, start small. Fewer courses done well are more impressive than trying too hard and having aspects of your evening flop. I’m speaking from experience here! Also, a sweaty, flustered hostess is never attractive (again, experience!). Simplicity is beautiful. I’ve had to learn this and I’m still learning.

2. Setting the Stage: Atmosphere is Key

A warm, inviting atmosphere needs to be created. Key players: soft lighting, candles, and background music. The overall aesthetics of my home are something I work on all the time to have beauty to look at everyday, but also to bring joy to visitors. I give extra attention to the set up of the table: fresh flowers in a mason jar centerpiece, set silverware and cloth napkins are all a nice touch. Creating an atmosphere of welcome can begin as soon as your guest arrives by greeting them at the door, taking their coat, asking if they need a drink and making sure they know where to go to join the party. Your guests are immediately at ease and ready to enter into the evening by those simple gestures.

3. Sometimes, less is more

Sometimes my hosting philosophy is: the more the merrier but more often than not these days, it is less is more. It’s not that I don’t want more people to be able to come to my house, but it’s important that you use the space you have well. Try not to crowd the space you have and accommodate additions comfortably. Also it can be prudent to have less people to facilitate more quality conversation and real relationships. Having less people at each dinner party allows for more dinner parties overall! Win, win!

You may be wondering whom to invite to your next party. Who’s worthy of all this trouble? My humble suggestion: Your priest. I’ve not enjoyed hosting or cooking for anyone more than our beloved shepherds. They are so appreciative of home cooked meals and it is an honor to have them dine with you and your family and friends. I have been incredibly blessed by each Father who has broken bread at my table and God willing there will be many more! But you don’t have to take my word for it. St. Margaret Clitherow gave her life for this very act at a time in English history when being a Catholic priest or having them in your home was a capital crime. St. Margaret is a great witness to the sacrifice of hospitality. (You can read more about her incredible story here).

Over the years, it’s been beautiful to see how this way of loving has been received. Having dinner parties in my home has been as much of a ministry to me as it has been to the other. When a person is welcomed into such a space and fed body and soul- they relax, laughter abounds, friendships deepen, and joy ensues. 

Bon appétit!

P.S.- Shirley is the cutest- when the Pope was here in the fall, she shared this grand wish:
The whole time the Pope has been here all I can think is, I wish I could cook him dinner! I want to feed him (and make him some strong coffee!) A grand Babette's Feast (modeled after his favorite movie, of course). If anyone has connections, let me know. My dream would look something like this... 

I only hope that I could garner an invite and would be sitting on the other side of that table, enjoying Shirley's warm welcome and delicious food. :)

 You can follow along with Shirley over on Instagram, where she chronicles beauty in the everyday, celebrates her success with Whole30, and posts the best food pics ever. :)

Shirley's lovely contribution is part of this year's Why Make Beautiful Things series.  If you are curious, you can go back and read the posts from last year here.  Make sure you come back for three more unique posts this week (Betsy on making old things new) and beautiful things giveaway on Friday!