Emerging from a cool, cavernous room with fern silhouettes cast against walls painted a deep purple, as if soaked with wine, I push open the doors and step into a warm storm. Oddly humid for California, I stand there invigorated, my neck and hair still sticky with menthol-infused oils, and exhale with a smile that stems from deep, inner peace. Right now, all that matters is that my shoulder blades are finally loose and the air smells like mint and wet streets.
“Take your time getting up,” the therapist had said softly, “and make sure to drink plenty of water to flush out any toxins.”
In an age wrought with chaos and stress that likes to prey on weak muscles, I’d just been given a fine glimpse at what true hospitality looks like and treated like a queen, strengthened for a week in the real world.
In the field of massage therapy, environment is key. It isn’t quite the healing itself—but it’s a huge part of what gets you there. It has taken me hours of training and well over a hundred massages to come to this beautiful realization: the field of massage therapy is one of the few places that still resembles the early church and its designed gift of hospitality.
I think it’s because holistic wellness is a very spiritual practice with as many rituals as Catholic mass. It has that physical “earthiness” that Christ was all about – the God who washed feet and spit on hands and touched eyes. Around the room sit the elements — lavender and peppermint oil to “anoint” the head and feet; a bowl of warm water for foot-washing; the physical touch of a healing hand; soothing words of affirmation; blessings; even relaxation music set to calm the mind and elevate the spirit. It’s a practice that’s not too holy to clean dirty feet or listen to ceaseless chatter with a quiet patience. Here, aesthetic matters because therapists understand that beauty can be healing.
The words hospital, hospice, hospitality, hostel, and host all come from the same Latin root hospes, which basically means guest. In a world where hospitals can be anything but hospitable, and homes broken and bitter, the atmosphere cultivated by those working in the field of massage therapy can be cardinal.
That said, unfortunately—as with anything—the enemy likes to twist and skew God’s intended goodness to be, instead, about the self. When this self-glorification (or preservation) happens, any field loses its potency in the highest form of healing. Sadly, this is true for much of the holistic wellness industry, which can stem from a worldview spiritual enough to look like Christ, yet vague enough to blaspheme him. I pray God captures the hearts of these fine people and allows them to partner with him in addressing the needs of the whole person.
One of my favorite settings from the Lord of the Rings is the Houses of Healing, the place where the wounded and weary come to rest and be restored. That’s what I want my home to be – a haven not only for myself, but for others—a place of beauty and rest that allows them to meet with Jesus. Lately, when friends drop by my apartment for a visit, they’ve remarked on the aesthetic of the rooms, saying everything feels very intentional and peaceful. This makes my heart so happy. And it may or may not stem from the fact that, on a good day, the rooms are aflame and alive with candles, mist from an essential oil diffuser, pan flutes streaming from the Bose, and white string lights glinting off the wood pallet bookshelf my dad built. Much of my love for beauty and decorating is credited to having gone through massage therapy school seven years ago, where we learned that everything about environment must be just right, for the nurture of those being treated and the empowerment of us working. Lotion and oils must be conveniently within reach; lighting must be dim but still present; conversation natural but minimal, and music playlists preset with the appropriate mood and volume. (Let it be known that I had no idea one of the tracks on my “Total Relaxation” CD had an eerie motif that sounded like it should be backing The Village. Sorry, Christy…)
When I think of true hospitality the way the early church practiced, I think of Roxie, the mother of my best friend. Roxie is a woman of nurture and generosity. She’s also plagued by an autoimmune disease that ravages her body and has nearly claimed her life at least twice. Yet, because she values Jesus like she values oxygen, the strength she has left is poured into making her home as beautiful and nourishing a place as possible; and the hospitality she extends to the little company she can host is abundant.
I also think of my mom, Patty—I especially when I boil potatoes. Not only did she pass along her love for cooking, but now I work in the kitchen and think of how she’s cared for my grandfather since his wife passed away early this year. My grandfather never knew how to peel potatoes or cook his own meals until he had to. And that’s where my mom has generously stepped in and spent her precious spare time showing him how it’s done.
Every time I give a massage, I’m reminded of this legacy of service and that I’m a vessel, helping care for the needs of the whole person.
Service. Trust. Nurture. Creativity. Intention. Restoration. These are the pillars of this practice, as well as the Christian gift of hospitality in general. In having a side job that so strongly relies on the use of all five senses, I’m grateful for the tangible reminder to open up both my home and my heart.
Creating an environment that feeds our need for order, comfort, and nourishment of the mind, body, and emotions takes work. It must be factored into the whole of our life plan… We can spread the fragrance of Christ to others by reaching for excellence and beauty, mirroring his care for us by caring for others sacrificially and with concern for detail. People are served in unexplainable ways when all their senses are engaged: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. It is the details that cause us to feel cared for, that take us back in our memories to the caretakers of our past, that encourage us to pass on the touch of God in ways that others have never experienced” (156). -Andi Ashworth, Real Love for Real Life