“”The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. … Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.” (Hebrews 11: 1-2, The Message translation, Eugene Peterson)
What I love about Anne Lamott, Willa Cather’s characters, and the new monastics is their ties to place and people. Lamott’s been writing about these same beautiful and broken people in her life, her church, since she stumbled into St. Andrew. Quotes about being rooted pepper my commonplace book, courtesy of Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: “Trees can be transplanted, often with magnificent results. But their default is to stay,” the latter writes in “The Wisdom of Stability.” Cather’s always got a character in discord with their geography.
And yet —
I’m restless. All my life I’ve moved about; an address sticking no longer than seven years, ever. I’m the worst kind of person to talk about rootedness because my rest comes not in a place, but in a jumble of circumstances, or a feeling (and a feeling is a terribly capricious place to find rest). I’m homesick and I don’t know for what, except maybe a little of everywhere: of a kids’ Christmas pageant and long storytelling at my Wisconsin church; for Mom’s cookies and her care; for my tribe, carols sung by a choir. Even liturgy; all of it — I want a truckload of story to overwhelm me; to drown out the other stuff like student loans and hard new jobs; to give me words, to root me. I’m a transient, maybe, but I’m not sure where I’m to be waving. I want adventure, but maybe a cozy one.
“People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home.” (Heb 11:13-16 MSG)
The holidays augment that unrest for me; the depression, too, for what loves a season of yearning more than that snarly voice that says it’ll never be?
“If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country that that — heaven country.” (Heb 11:13-16 MSG)
Dave and I crave a place where we can paint the walls and stay; we’re getting the smell of Michigan on our clothes. We dream and we ask what the adventure’ll be, or if this is it, and we ask to be awake for it. We’re learning the motions of staying, like someone might learn to write with their non-dominant hand.
We’ve got our second Christmas Eve plans set. I’ve sewn curtains for the girls’ windows; we refill the bird feeders; I send cards; we bring lasagna or ourselves to shelters. We’re reading “Heidi” before bed; Sundays we commit to church in its new place. I run on the same trails every weekend, the trees overhead and roots grown over the path as familiar as the tile on the shower floor and the smell of my kids’ hair a day after a wash. I hope heaven has a woods. … Because I’m afraid heaven also has children, and these kids are fighting like mad this last week.
If staying is something I’m learning, these are the habits I’m using to teach me what being rooted means. I’m a slow learner; it’s probably why God has me here, in a place I cannot paint. I can only wait, hope.
“You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.” (Heb 11:13-16 MSG)
Our church’s bought this building, this old church with pews and stained glass. In the dark, with the streetlights outside reflecting in the glass, the building reminds me of the Friday nights my teenage friends and I would sit in the candlelight by the statues of St. Anthony in the church I was confirmed in a year or two before. The flames would flicker in the red-glass votives and our laughter and voices would bounce off the high ceilings and we’d talk about God and, I don’t know, life. Our town of two stoplights offered no other venue we could access with no cars, no adults, no supervision. Well, we knew of the Big Supervision. I felt at home there, talking with the five of them while God listened; God, the only one I know better now than I did then.
Back in Lansing, with the lights on, it’s easy to see the good in an architect’s drawing in this other church: taking out walls and getting rid of the ’80s wallpaper. Yes, let’s. To be honest, I don’t really care too much, though; I just want it to feel like a home. Someone else’ll do just fine with paint and all that; I just need a place to call ours, a collective ours.
The collective ours — the collective being the holy part. Both in our home and in church, I’m probably learning how home doesn’t have to look like anything. It’s just the place we meet God; it’s the place we meet each other and learn how not to kill each other, especially our younger siblings.
Dear Jesus, tell me heaven has a woods.