Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I keep returning to the same place...

I keep returning to my bookshelf, to the words of Henri Nouwen. His passion, his depth of emotion, his honesty draw me in every time I open the pages of his books. Right now, I am working my way through Home Tonight, one of his two works based on the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke chapter 15.

He points out that it is our suffering, our lack of faith in how deeply loved we are and our unwillingness to change our faulty way of thinking and living, that sends us out into the world, like the younger brother in the parable, plunging ourselves into even deeper suffering.

You and I know spiritually about belonging, leaving, and returning. We, like the young prodigal, can learn to act ahead of our feelings, trust that love is there, and make our shaky return. And we will do it more readily if we come to know the God figure in the story. Before now I was never able to see how the love of the father embraced not just the return of his younger child but also his running away from home. That is an enlightening consideration prompting me now to question, 'Do you mean you were actually there in my leaving?' and 'Does this mean that I can come home and you'll still be there for me?' (page 25)

Or perhaps we are more like the older son, the one who stays home, does the right thing, is never "the wild one," but we are equally far from home, distant from the love that is ours to enjoy, because we think we have to "do the right thing"  in order to be loved.

Resentment, the curse of the faithful, the virtuous, the obedient, and the hardworking, settles itself in the human heart and causes havoc. That is why it's important to think and reflect upon it. All of us who give our lives for loved ones, work hard, and objectively have many virtues to be praised, are sometimes not really free from the burden of resentment in our hearts. (page 59)

I have come to realize that I am both older and younger prodigal daughter. I want to run away from home all the time - well, whenever I'm not trying to be the perpetually perky and loving and never-angry, never-resentful superwoman.

Henri Nouwen suggests that the goal of the spiritual journey is to get to the place where we believe, truly believe that we are loved unconditionally whether we stay at home or hit the road for a while and live a prodigal life. Along the way, we learn to see the pain and suffering in others and embrace them, walking together through the shadows and valleys of this life journey. We see ourselves in those around us. We see others in ourselves. We welcome the wanderers home. We encourage the ones at home to celebrate themselves and their lives. We, the wanderers, return home - again and again. We, the homebodies, learn new ways to live joyfully and exuberantly right here at home - in between the meals and loads of laundry and dusting and mopping.

I keep returning to the same place. The place of itchy feet and wandering eyes - heart, soul, and spirit yearning to hit the road and squander something. To let my imagination, Expedia.com, and my passport transport me to worlds heretofore unknown.

But before I can pack my bags, I have to do the laundry.
So I return to the laundry room, the ironing board, and the overflowing sink...
Once again, I return to the same place.
Once again, I am home.

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