The Price of Home

I’ve been stung. Poisoned. Nothing flora or fauna. By a book. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s got me thinking again about our notions of ‘home.’

Poisonwood Bible.jpg

Tuesday, December 26th. Boxing Day. It’s strange, just saying those words can produce such intense homesickness. A progressive, Canadian family living in a regressive, Trumpian America. Similarly, Nathan and Orleanda Price and their children, Rachael, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May – in equal measure, a family displaced; a little collective of courage and fear, lived in a world of nothing but frontier. Their only certainties were the uncertainties of daily survival in a world that cared little either way.

Their meager, not even daily, meals of eggs or mash, perhaps some chicken if someone took pity on them, removed any vestiges of the stolen or manufactured expectations as whites in a black world. They were equals among those who typically served their every whim, seen or unseen; an unexpected balance that would save them from their own extinction. Hmm, something to heed here I think.

Were they there because of some high calling of the gospel? Was it their great Christian frontier where, in their own stumbling way, they could add to the Roll Called Up Yonder? Or, was it something deeper, more primal? Were they there to befriend the enemy? To make peace with the devil? With their devils? With their gods? With God?

The complexities of their call beckon me to consider my own. Like the Prices, I am a man equally displaced, despite possessing a shared border and the lack of intermediary ocean. I have asked the question, precariously and ad nauseam, where do I fit? We all do at some point.

With no small shame, I spent an entire childhood fearing and hating this place, giant land of giants. America, the baffling. In my estimation, she never lived up to her own press. But she sure loved to talk about herself, unendingly, all with a suspicious eye on the unprepared listener’s awaited response of teary-eyed gratitude. Anything less was travesty or treason. For what exactly? Was I the lucky recipient of her gracious light or should I hide with the others in her long shadow cast over a pathetic world who, apparently, needs her?

Now, some seventeen years later – a generation, a lifetime, and I am faced with questions the answers to which would have been clearer back then. Frankly, I don’t know that I ever really knew the answers. Hell, I don’t think I remember the questions. And, even if I did, to have answers at all render such questions glib and facile.

Instead, I’m left trying to decide whether my “answers” are to be found in the questions themselves. Perhaps I am meant to find better questions? Like that one. Perhaps the answers to any question is the the readiness to ask anything at all? How thoroughly cliché. How unsatisfying.

Perhaps.

Like the Prices’ life in Kilanga, Congo, do we follow whatever calling, intuition, demons, indigestion, lead us to believe in anything beyond ourselves? How pure is anyone’s rationale in the final analysis? At times even the animals seem well beyond us. No complaining. No seeking, and therefore, no disappointments. Just Live. Survive. Reproduce. Die. Repeat.

Simpler, but rather bleak, don’t you think?

The Price’s, like everyone, made decisions birthed of the complex hubris of their psyches. The geography of soul can be most difficult to navigate at the best of times. They discovered this in as many ways as there are opportunities to offset obstacles. Their choices reflect the long, disjointed road that seems to lead nowhere. But, in the end, leads right back to who they are, who they became. Who they never were.

After the ignominious cross, Jesus even dwelt among the dead in Hades, not to gloat over their bad choices, but to boast of their good fortunes. To give a two-thumbs-up where one might not have expected as much. If it were a movie, it was that moment when the dungeon door flew open and a rescuer reaches out a hand, “come with me if you want to live.” Or something like that.

They were as much ‘home’ as all the lucky buggers still topside and playing cards. Their long, grey waiting room had more than old magazines to keep them company. It had their own journals in which had been written, “all is well, my good grace always wins over bad living.” What’s more inviting than that? Perhaps if we remain small enough, with hearts like sponge, minds like children, and souls in tattered need, Love will meet us even in our worst places?

The mystics, who swim here, would shit to hear me speak in such ways. I think I hear them whispering under their breath, “This is good. We ask these same questions every day. But, isn’t life that much richer for asking them in the first place? The gospel has shown us that everywhere is equally our home. We just don’t know it yet.”

In times past, my life here in the land of win-at-all-costs would have felt much more Poisonwood than promise. But, in the growing light of age and calmer spiritual water it is no longer an exile. It is merely my environment in which I internalize my experience. That alone is so much more than those among whom the Prices lived knew, where surviving and thriving meant the same thing.

Now, whenever I’m tempted to bemoan my sad disenfranchisement, I consider the ramifications of the gospel of freedom. The Price. We’re all in God’s living room, which is everywhere seen and unseen.

Price in Africa. Me, here.

The price of home.  

 

 

Glimpses, part II – the spirituality of place.

Where a person is can be as important to one’s spiritual development as what they believe. Long have spiritual masters proclaimed the benefits of sacred places. The Hebrew scriptures are replete with God’s directions to Israel to mark out territories prescribed by God that would both demonstrate God’s faithfulness and Israel’s special role in God’s redemptive economy. From the irrigated, verdant hills dotting the landscape around his hometown of Galilee, Jesus would spend countless hours with his Father. From such wilderness haunts he would find nurture, tenacity, strength, succor, and, frankly…answers.

So much of who we are and what we are becoming is directly attributable to the places that have graced us (rhyme subliminal but entirely intentional). In the comparative spiritual laissez faire of Constantine’s newly Christianized Rome, Abba Antony of Egypt started a mass exodus into the deserts of Egypt, those who would become known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The barrenness and desperation of the desert mimicked a similar cry deep within the hearts of these enigmatic souls. What is the obvious lesson? When there isn’t anything to titillate the senses, one might as well deal with the soul!

As a result of their foray into geographical nothingness, they became everything. They became the fullness that lies beneath the surface of what one misses when only seeing the desert sand.

The Celts, well known for their keen kinship with their environment, made much of this desire. Not unlike the Native populations of the US and Canada, not a feather of wing-ed bird, nor bark of tree, nor single trickle of rainwater escaped their notice. All carried within it some morsel of meaning for them.  Because everything received notice, nothing got wasted and this outer kinship found expression through inner resolve and great spiritual creativity.

My own holy places, the cairns of my wanderings, are generally old, rather solid, often drafty and poorly insulated, but full of the memory of stones that have long cried out to their Maker. Long have I had an historical and spiritual affinity for those stuffy, rarely air-conditioned chapels that never cease to draw me elsewhere…to the great Other. Let me share just a few.

St. Saviour’s Anglican Church sanctuary in Nelson, British Columbia where for a number of years I taught at a Highland Bagpiping School (a place where other strange souls like myself learn to tame a five-legged creature designed to rouse neighbors and destined to arouse suspicions). Connections in the community opened the door figuratively and, in this case, literally, to spend as much time as I wanted in the church sanctuary after everyone else had gone home. I was given a key and carte blanche run of the place.

Most evenings after a long day of bagpipe students, some whiny, some lazy, all of them noisy, I would retire to the sanctuary with my pipes. For an hour or so I would simply play, enjoying the epic reverberance of the sound bouncing off the hard stone walls, and finding no sonic respite from the hardwood floor. It was, for me, the closest I had yet been to what I might have then described as heaven. At times it was 2:00 am before finally getting back to my room.

The hospital chapel in the same city was another such place. I was falling apart after a recent break-up with a girl to whom I had been engaged. My shattered interior was gradually reintegrated in that little chapel where I would weep and pray for hours, listening to John Michael Talbot, or the Monks of the Weston Priory sing beautifully doleful refrains. It was for me, through gallons of heart-crushing tears, the perfect requiem to my stubbornly elusive peace of mind. It would become the Introit to a new place of healing and restoration, albeit gradually.

Tintern Abbey in Wales, the place I believe could be boasted by angels as heaven’s waiting room, the lobby to eternity. My first experience of this roofless wreck of holiness was following a six month sojourn as a missionary to youth in Edinburgh’s rough Pilton district with my new wife of a year. We were tired and needed time to traipse about the land of our ancestors (and her relatives) before returning to Canada, unsure of what awaited us there. The warm, lazy day infused with the angular light of Fall caressed the ancient stone walls easily visible from almost anywhere. The pointed gables of apse and nave bespoke a darker but simpler time. All we could do was sit and pray.

Less than two years later a picture of Tintern Abbey would help pull her through a terrible first pregnancy with our son, Calum. The same photo performed this function five years later as our second son, Graeme, reluctantly succumbed to womb-ed pressure and left his humble abode to make his premier. However, it is difficult to compete with William Wordsworth whose words best complete this picture:

While with an eye made quiet by the power

Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,

We see into the life of things…

And somewhat of a sad perplexity,

The picture of the mind revives again:

While here I stand, not only with the sense

Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts

That in this moment there is life and food

For future years. And so I dare to hope…(Wordsworth on Tintern, 1798)

Everyone can point to at least one place where something important, even seminal occurred and they sense something is different. There it is that our life has been forever changed, perhaps only incrementally, but transformed just the same.

I believe it is God’s way of playing spatial peek-a-boo.

Think deeply of a place or two that have been places of rest and reconstruction. Picture that place in your mind. Now let that picture juggle your heart.

As you do so, re-member the pieces of you that may have been broken or lost in that place. Quietly give thanks to the God who loves to find us where we’re least looking or at least looking the other way.