Neither is Reciprocity something to be proclaimed aloud; it must be lived in our daily lives, every day. Hospitality is both a spiritual discipline and an expression of personal spiritual health. If you are feeling angry, hurt, or alienated you cannot offer a warm welcome to someone else. Likewise, if you are at peace and filled with abundant joy, then Reciprocity flows naturally from the very depths of your being.
What is true of an individual, must also true of their community. A spiritual community in which people do not genuinely love one another is not likely to exude warmth. A spiritual community that is insular and disconnected from the rest of the community cannot offer spiritual Reciprocity. Reciprocity is love in action.
I have found that, for me, the Divine is most often found within the practices of Reciprocity, making room for others in my life, making room in my own heart, for the stranger within and among us.
When we speak of Reciprocity we are also addressing issues of inclusion vs. exclusion. Our entire culture excludes so many people. If you are wheelchair-bound, for example, you are excluded because there are places you can't go. If you are very young, or very old, you are excluded. Women are excluded, as are minorities and those who practice a religions different from the societal majority.
Encountering and interacting with those who are different from ourselves is important, because it stretches us. When we create a life surrounded by people just like ourselves, we lead a very narrow life. A spirituality centered in such a life will drift into complacency. It allows us to settle for easy answers based solely on personal experiences.
So, Reciprocity has an inescapable moral dimension. It is not mere social grace; it is a spiritual and ethical issue. It is an issue that gets to the very core of what it means to be human.
But we must also take our spiritual practice of Reciprocity beyond the safety of our own religious communities. Our practice must extend to opening our hearts to strangers throughout our lives and to those who’s beliefs challenge our own.
The real challenge comes when we encounter people who *appear* to be different from ourselves. People we perceive as different test our spiritual development, and they help us develop spiritually. We need to practice openness to people who make us uncomfortable: people a lot older or younger; people who are a different ethnicity; people who are gay, straight, conservative, or liberal; people who are mentally ill. The stranger among us.
When we welcome the uncomfortable, we grow. We come to realize that there is more that binds us than divides us. We are not all that separate after all.
We begin to discover that the best reason to reach out isn't just to help another person, to make them more comfortable, to make ourselves feel whole, or to be more spiritual. Reaching out frees us from the prison of the self. Practicing Reciprocity, reaching out with love, frees us from individualism and narcissism. It helps us have greater love and acceptance for our fellow man and, by extension, our own selves.
With love comes understanding, and with understanding comes love. Ultimately, love and understanding are one. Reciprocity is compassion, love, understanding, and the freedom from the illusion of separateness. It is knowing you are never alone, and never will be alone again, because we are all, ultimately, one.