Creating a welcoming environment
Gratitude for all things that happen (good, bad, or indifferent) is the first step in the path to a joyful heart—the joy that is lasting and deep.
We Americans, celebrated Thanksgiving. Historically, a legal holiday, and a day appointed for giving thanks for divine goodness. Families come, from near and far, to gather together and sit around the table of plenty. In these gatherings families catch up with each other’s lives, sing, talk, and reminisce. There is an overall feeling of ‘wellbeing’ that is not only brought about by a belly full, a mind dulled by choice liquours, but also by this indescribable feeling of oneness, peace, and belonging. The importance of the family unity overwhelm us. This is the real stuff. There is nothing else that beats it.
HOWEVER, often in these gatherings, the ugliness of the world seeps in.
Last November (2015), I was driving home, and I was listening to a NPR program. They were discussing the imminent American Thanksgiving Day and how they were going to manage the disagreements, heated discussions, and outright fights that often take place when families gather.
The world of today is indeed divided into so many factions (political, economic, religious, and other social/cultural issues) that to keep peace and the spirit of Thanksgiving, it has to be managed, but HOW?
The choices were:
1) Keep quiet and don’t give your true opinion on a subject that you know is bound to create an uproar;
2) Do not bring these issues to the table. At the table enjoy the food, the beauty, and feast your senses with the aromas, the colors, the tastes, and the warmth of human touch that is brought before you;
3) Enjoy each and everyone in the family gathering;
4) If you must, begin to discuss the controversial issues of the day only after the meal is finished and members are enjoying coffee and dessert.
I, and our family in general, often had (have) a problem with #1. We could be “hot heads.” I, myself, had (have) great problems dealing calmly with an issue that I know in my heart of hearts is wrong and untrue (morally and religiously).
One of the NPR commentators was in the opinion that we should not remain quiet in discussing an issue that may be diametrically opposed to one’s opinion.To be quiet is to give consent.
This bit about “giving quiet consent” to something that is wrong and untrue, is a grave thing—one that has not brought, does not bring, and will never bring peace and justice.
There are so many such examples in history that those who kept quiet, falsely thinking that by doing so they were keeping the peace, allowed horrendous injustices and sufferings to fall upon many. I struggle with this—cannot keep quiet.
My confessor, a Catholic priest, once told me, “You have to tell the truth, but with LOVE. " But how do you tell the truth with love? I found this out recently.
In our conversations, let’s create a welcoming environment of kindness and calmness in which people feel they can speak freely, and this will facilitate communication and not serve as a barrier to communication.
The two components of “creating a welcoming environment” according to St. John of the Cross are:
I would like to add one of my own, (but also borrowed from another Catholic Saint, St. Benedict).
“Listen with an ear of the heart.”
Listen without emotion.
TELL THAT PERSON YOUR VIEWS AND WHY.
This is my interpretation of telling the truth with LOVE and listening with an ear of the heart.
I prayed and made a promise that I was not going to be a “HOT HEAD.” I had a slight melt-down two days before driving north to my sister’s house for the feast. My eldest daughter, who witnessed the shameful display of my hotheadness, may classify it as a MAJOR melt-down.
I sent an email to my sister alluding to the fact that I had a “meltdown”-- cause unknown.
She wrote back, “Come, and we will have some fun!”
I told a young friend that I had a melt-down, and that since these melt-downs tend to occur during such family gatherings as “Thanksgiving” that I was “thankful” that I had mine way before.
I put together some dates, fruitcake, bourbon laced fudge, quinoa, and polenta to prepare. My daughter prepared sides of spaghetti squash, and cauliflower mashed potatoes (to fool the eyes of the low carb eaters that they were having real mashed potatoes), and my husband made his historic pies of pumpkin and apple.
At last minute I packed my guitar and stuffed a book of “baby boomers” classic guitar pieces. We packed our Subaru and took a lesser known route northward. The weather was perfect.
With all the things going on in the world that I knew could divide us and create contention among the old, the young, and the in between, it was really a JOYFUL family time.
We ate and drank hardly. We reminisced, we complemented, we listened, we sang oldies and not so oldies, and danced. I even broke out in a solo of Shubert’s AVE MARIA (a decade long dream of being able to sing it). The retired and the almost retired among us compared notes about the new horizons that we were forging toward, the young professionals shared their dreams, hopes, and smiled with their new found loves and grateful for their families.
Everyone pitched in with the clean-up, without being asked, and my sister, the hostess, had time to lead a group of us for a walk in the woods around her neighborhood.
It was one of the most joyful and blessed Thanksgivings. I personally tried to connect with each person –not just giving a hug and kiss— but I wanted to hear their stories of where they were in their lives.
I believe that we all felt that deep JOY of being one, and we felt loved. We belonged and we experienced peace even though we were only a few miles from the center of the world’s greatest power.
IT TAKES PRACTICE, IT TAKES WILL, AND It TAKES PERSEVERANCE TO CREATE THIS WELCOMING ENVIRONMENT OF BENIGNIDAD AND SOSIEGO.
Give it a try. It makes all the difference in your life and the lives around you.
[i] All of this material on “creating a welcoming environment” is taken from the 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross’ Ascent to Mount Carmel as presented by Marc Foley OCD in his book Ascent to Mount Carmel Reflection.