Three years into the business of being Air b&b hosts, it’s tempting to think of ourselves as experts, even professionals. Indeed, where we live, hospitality is regarded as an industry, albeit a fairly minor one, so thinking of it as a business is not unreasonable, I suppose.
Occasionally, we get guests who tell us we should charge more. I take this as a compliment. But I also take care to explain to them that were we to start charging fancy prices, we would get a different kind of guest, people who would just treat the place as a hotel. We justify what we charge, which is not cheap, but not as expensive as it perhaps could be, because we are not running a hotel but inviting people to share something of the peace and beauty of where we live.
The peace and beauty that we are surrounded with is free – which makes it all the more beautiful. There is a delicacy about everything and we want people to appreciate that, without feeling a sense of entitlement by virtue of having paid more than we need to make the whole enterprise viable. So I think we get a certain kind of guest. We get people who value the place – and we make a great many new friends.
Our guests are usually filled with wonder when they arrive here and we, as we get to know them from a respectful distance, learn to be surprised by the innate goodness of people. We have seldom had guests where some kind of transformative revelation does not take place – for us, as well as for them.
Last week an Israeli family came to stay. Since we’re pro-Palestinian we were a little apprehensive about this visit. We decided to avoid any talk of politics and simply get on with the job of being good hosts. They were charming guests. All the same, we viewed them with a degree of suspicion, avoiding the big topic. But such things are not so easily avoided and, as they were leaving, one of them remarked on how peaceful it is here “not like our country”, he said.
I have little memory of what was actually said after that, but I do remember the moment when it became clear that these people were deeply troubled by the way the Palestinian people are being treated. I mentioned Beit Hanina, a village I had known when it was still Palestinian. He said “Yes, I served as a soldier there”.
“What did it feel like?” I asked, in genuine amazement
“It was horrible. I hated it” he replied.
I think that it was at that moment that we all four hugged one another, only just managing to hold back the tears. We talked a little about the peace initiatives he and his wife are involved with in Israel. But it wasn’t that which caused the walls of distrust and preconceptions, on my part, to come down. I don’t think our Israeli guests felt anything like that in regard to us.
This was a moment of profound understanding. It revealed us to ourselves and to one another as the children of a loving God. We even spoke a common language, theologically, although we didn’t get into that in any detail, only to agree that what is being done to the Palestinians by the secular state of Israel runs counter to Jewish scriptures. We were able to agree about this from a place of reverence, from an implicit sense that what is being done to the Palestinians constitutes a violation of the holy, a kind of sacrilege, that it is an offence to God. We were able to weep together about this.
Jesus once said that those who mourn are in fact blessed. I think this is the first time that I have really understood what these words mean. They have to do with a renewed encounter with the enemy, the person we distrust or hate, because of their politics or nationality, an encounter which takes place from within our shared humanity. These encounters happen from time to time in conflict situations, as they did between soldiers on the Christmas Day Armistice during the First World War. They have a profoundly sacramental significance. They hallow what is otherwise ‘unhallowed’, what is unholy in the eyes of a loving God. They are our only hope for survival.