When I was a girl and my parents' home was tiny and our family was large, we had a constant stream of visitors. Because my mother made it look so easy, I enjoyed enormous naiveté about entertaining. Consequently, when I married, I thought all you needed to practice hospitality was an oven and the Mennonites' More with Less Cookbook. It did not occur to me that wealth, occupation, or marital status could be a barrier of my own making. I collided with one of these barriers when my husband and I met a couple at church and invited them for a Sunday meal after the service. We liked them a lot, although to our radical eyes they were part of the establishment: He designed weapons and she was an accountant. We had just moved out of a commune and were reconsidering mainstream life. Despite differences, our mutual eagerness to know God helped us click. We welcomed our new friends to our ancient apartment with its crooked walls and shag carpet congealed to the floor. Our furniture was picked up from the curb on garbage day. Our curtains were colorful patchwork made from drapery sample books. In the hip style of the time, black fishnet and glass globes adorned the ceiling. We sat on creaky chairs at a wobbly table in the kitchen. Because we didn't own a grill, I skillet fried hamburgers. We had potato salad and baked beans from a can. Our guests stayed all afternoon and into the evening talking. A week later they returned the invitation. We arrived at their address to find an adobe wall-enclosed estate. Through a gate, we entered a quiet courtyard with a fountain running in the cool shade of a piñon tree. Flowers bloomed in the desert air. We knocked at front doors flanked by Mexican tiles and were ushered into a flagstone foyer. Navaho rugs hung on the living room walls and Zuni pottery decorated the Pueblo-style fireplace. We sat on leather cushions in the living room around a glass table and nervously fingered our drinks. Spread out before us was a Chinese board game I had never seen-mah-jong. A double litany streamed in my head. One flow said: "You idiot. What ever made you think these people would want to visit the dump you live in? And serving them Coke and burgers? That was like giving dog biscuits to Queen Elizabeth." The other flow kept saying: "No. No. Hospitality isn't about status or the stuff we own. Meals shared in love, conversations of the heart in the shelter of homes-this is how it should be." As our friendship deepened, one evening the husband commented, as he sank carefully into our tippy old rocker: "Why do I feel so comfortable here, so at home in your living room?" Indeed. Why? Something mysterious happens that can't always be explained by words when we practice genuine hospitality. We were all learning that the value of our possessions cannot guarantee hospitality or even comfort. Something more than eating happens when true hospitality is practiced. We remember two artists who hosted a group of friends for simple meals of homemade bread and soup. They had very little furniture, so we sat on floor pillows. Their walls were covered with original paintings. Their cats decoratively draped themselves on laps and bookshelves. Candles lit the living room. Lively discussions made us drop everything for invitations to the Wylies. In the warmth of their home we talked about all manner of things. We always left feeling rich, satisfied, and eager to live godly lives. Paul tells us to "practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13). Practice. Pursue it. As though by doing we master it like a musician at the piano for hours. "Practice hospitality" is not a throwaway remark filling apostolic word allotments. There is no escape clause that allows me to beg off because I don't own Ethan Allen furniture or matched silver. Or because I am married or single, too busy or too disorganized. Edith Schaeffer's life and books have been good tutors, teaching me that creativity and beauty are not just OK, they're essential. That formality and stiffness don't foster comfort. Neither, necessarily, does money. Badger from Wind in the Willows is a better model than Martha Stewart: Simple. Nourishing. Generous. God expects people of all sorts to buy groceries, sweep floors, and fluff pillows. The inspired words "practice hospitality" establish the sacredness of the homely for everyone.