“How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep,” Frodo says.
He has come home, but he is changed by his wounds, and home is never quite home for him. For my friends the Ivesters, (I shared a song called “Keep the Feast in Faith” written for them in the previous issue of Cultivating) who have returned now to live in the home they’ve restored since it burned over a year ago, there is rejoicing and grieving over the home that is and loss of the home that was. When grief is healed that healing never means that the hurt ceases to have happened.
A home, wounded and mended, though by the skill of the elves, is still somehow aching for a wholeness only hinted at by the present restoration.
We’re getting into Summer now, and it is good to enter a new time that for me begins my yearly touring season. I’ll be leaving mid-July to travel all over the country sharing songs and stories until November. It’s an exciting time for me, because it means I’ll be visiting many who have become good friends, even though I only see them when I’m on the road. It’s an invigorating time because the songs and stories that have been quietly growing in my heart will travel out and make many meetings. I never know who I will meet, what conversations will take place, or how I will be changed. But I am changed. The making makes us, and the sharing shapes us too.
When the road finally leads me back to my home, I’ll be different, and so will home.
This past January, when I returned home from 2017’s tour, the home that was, wasn’t anymore. I don’t mean it was physically gone, but it was very different. My brother Sam whom I’ve lived with the last five years, took a wonderful new job at a ministry that creates family and home for adults with developmental disabilities. While I was away, he moved in there as the guy’s group home parent. When I got back from the tour, I found myself living alone for the first time since 2003. The emptiness of the house was physically oppressive; your body knows when nobody’s there.
Like picking up a book you stopped reading years ago and trying to find your place in the story again, those first two months I was deeply disoriented. “I imagine the road is terribly lonely,” a friend said, “aren’t you glad to be home?” The truth was, I wasn’t. On the road, I saw people most every day, but now, and especially since I work from home, it wasn’t unusual to go a week at a time without seeing another human being. My sense of home had collapsed. Over the next few months, it became clear that I would have to rebuild almost from the ground up.
It is not good for a human to be alone, Scripture points out. There are things that recede to the background when a home is peopled by bustle and presence. The negligible drip of the kitchen faucet grows to an isolated tympanic roar when the music of family is absent. The drip of sadnesses and even sin grew difficult to ignore those first few months, and still shadow me from time to time though the days have grown sunnier.
The emptiness of those first two Winter months did, like the negative space in a painting, signify a call forward to renovation and restoration. As that call to a new process of home-seeking began to seep like dawn under a doorway, I understood that to come home I would have to set out as a pilgrim.
Henri told me it takes time – more than a lifetime – to learn how to come home. We are each of us apprenticed while the Master draws the image out of us; there’s no shortcut to the heart.
In the previous issue of Cultivating, I wrote about an Elizabeth Goudge book where the characters must go on pilgrimage to the “heart of the wood” where they face themselves and ultimately are faced by the loving look of God. But none of them can reach that place alone; they must have partners in the pilgrimage. That was written as Spring was encircling Winter in soft ambush. I was beginning to welcome the God-given and good fact of my need for friends who could walk with me; I still had a ways to go before I could begin to ask for their help.
By Spring I didn’t feel as buried beneath the crumble, as some of the collapsed building had been hauled off. Now, I was seeing the cleared ground as a place for some new possibilities to gather and grow. Still, Weathertop’s wound chilled me even as April passed and my home felt ghostly more often than not. I reached out to a few friends, faithful and busy as everyone is, I learned how to leave the house more often and work in public places even if just to enjoy feeling the presence of strangers. One day I found a little blue scrap of paper stranded under the table at the coffee shop; its owner had written a single phrase in blue ink: another long day. I wrote this poem:
“Another long day”
Written in blue on blue
Paper discarded. A crumb
Left thin under the table
By a stranger, weary
As she was.
Some coffeeshop castaway
Dropping this note
Into the sea of kept worry
To watch it wave back at her.
I see you, invisible one,
Imagine your cursive
Knotted thoughts making their way
To the pen’s tip to cry out
From the bottled unnoted.
That little square of ocean
Bearing your bled-words
Communicates the long waters
Between islands. And here,
Your note is noticed, noted –
And even if unknowingly –
Two sail now together.
That poem etched for me a moment in time when the Lord seemed to pledge in good faith that no one really sails alone. It was also a prayer for whomever left that desperate little phrase behind. I began to wonder who might be traveling with me already without my knowing? You could translate one of Scripture’s titles for the Holy Spirit to the With-Walker.
I should step aside at this point and warn you that this writing won’t likely arrive anywhere very satisfying. That’s not the story I’m telling. I’m telling a story of pilgrimage, and I’m very much still on the way. Josef Pieper says, “For man, to ‘be’ means to ‘be on the way’ – he cannot be in any other form; man is intrinsically a pilgrim.” I’m grateful for you, Reader, for joining me on the way during the moments it takes you to read this (and maybe longer). I pray writing it may be a way of joining you, a way of exchanging little blue paper notes at the end of another long day.
Still, I do hope to close this meandering chapter with some sense of hoped-in direction, the fancy word for which is telos. You’ve seen telos show up in telescope, teleport, telephone. Christian tradition has always taught that, though God is not identical to what he has made, he has, like every artist, invested himself and his intentions into everything he has created. God has not abandoned the good dream he had for this cosmos in the beginning. This is all going somewhere. I mean, all of creation (and hopefully this writing).
The cosmos is telic; the cosmos itself, along with you and me, is on pilgrimage.
The Mistress of the Silver Moon in George MacDonald’s The Princess and Curdie tells the young repentant Curdie, who has just killed one of her pigeons, “When you shot the arrow you did not know what a pigeon is.” On rare occasions we glimpse a little of God’s dream for the world – what it really is. When the pilgrims finally do come home, they will not see things but into things, through them, ‘along the beam’ as Lewis puts it. Then, the gap between the home that will be and the home that was will close. If you’ve seen Jesus you’ve seen the Father; the cosmos will be rendered that true, so will we. God’s good dream for all things will be realized. Telos.
Meanwhile, we battle to keep taking steps together on pilgrimage, even as all creation and the With-Walker himself groans for the consummation of Christ’s redemptive work.
For now, the thorns grow right with the blood-red rose, and you are learning how deep the shed-blood goes.
This conversation began with Frodo coming home wounded, and my friends the Ivesters coming home to a house restored after a devastating fire, rejoicing and grieving mixed. I once heard an African man give a proverb, saying, “Joy and sorrow walk down the path holding hands.” Hebrews says Jesus endured the cross, passing into and through suffering to reach the joy set before him.
Last year, I read a book called A Wounded Innocence by Alejandro R. Garcia-Rivera, and in it he suggests that the way God moves us toward his intended telos of restored innocence is not in spite of but through our woundedness. Garcia-Rivera describes the journey of ancient pilgrims making their way to the Basilica of St-Denis in France. When they arrived, the pilgrims would enter the porta-caeli, the gate of heaven, passing under an inscription reading, “the work [of the built cathedral] should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, to the True Light where Christ is the true door.” Upon entering the pilgrims would be bathed in the twilight of the luminous blue cast from the stained-glass windows. The vision afforded at the culmination of the pilgrimage to the basilica is, “for those of us who find our lives somewhere between the woundedness of this world and the wholesome vision of the next. It is vision for those of us wounded yet full of hope.”
For me, for the Ivesters and for Frodo, as wonderful as home can be, it will be ghosted by a lingering call to move through it to its telos. As we enter a time of Summer vacations, I like to think that our homes don’t exist merely to be vacated, but to be cared-for and travelled-through. There is no way to be but to be on the way. We walk ‘along the beam’. We thread the twilight path to the gate of heaven, sewing together woundedness and innocence, the grief of what was and the joy of what is and is to come.
“Looking along the beam” comes from C.S. Lewis’s Meditation-in-a-Toolshed
To follow the story of last year’s house fire of Philip and Lanier Ivester’s beloved home, Ruff House, and its subsequent restoration – head over to LanierIvester.com.