“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” JN 15:9
Moving around so much as a kid–from state to state, with my biological family, into different foster families, into my adopted family, switching schools over and over again, leaving my “home town” behind for college–has left me with a nagging question: Where is home?
I’ve spent many years and much energy trying to make so many different places feel like home, and in many ways, all of the places did become home, in one sense or another. Still, that annoying, pestering question, where is home? Where is the place I can remain and not ever have to say goodbye?
I’ve done my best to squash that question, to convince myself that my high school “home town” (used loosely, given so many moves) will always be that place I can return to. It will always be there waiting for me. Or I pretend to be stoic and tell myself that wherever I am in the present moment, that is home.
Both these things are true, partially. The town where my family lives now will always be as close as it gets to having a “home town” and it will always be there to return to. But it will never be the same as it was before I left for college. And yes, there is a beauty and a truth to finding home in the present moment and location, but that doesn’t mean much without roots, without some sense of time and well-worn character.
So where is home? When life is so transitory, when things come and go and shuffle us about, when we are constantly settling down only to say goodbye in a few short years, where can we remain?
I guess this is the standard pre-graduation reflection from a college senior thinking about all the ways college has become home to her. It’s true that saying goodbye to Creighton is going to be incredibly hard for me. I have some friends who are ready to take off–who were ready to get out of here shortly after their freshman year began–but I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for them. Is there nothing here that you will miss, that makes you want to stay even just a little bit longer?
Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things I’m excited for about graduating:
1) Seeing four years of long, sleepless nights, bottomless pots of coffee and endless papers pay off
2) Starting a brand new job which I am absolutely in love with (working as a camp counselor and retreat leader at a Catholic camp for a year)
3) Not having class and busy-work get in the way of serving and being with others
I wrote a reflection not too long ago on this very subject, on what Creighton has meant to me and what I hope to carry with me when I leave.
The excitement and gratitude are genuine, but still the question haunts me: Where is home?
Being somewhat of a daily Mass-goer, I’ve noticed a common theme springing up in the gospels this week. Over and over again, I’ve heard Jesus calling his disciples to remain in him. Whether through parables (the vine and the branches) or explicitly (“Remain in my love”), Jesus reminds his friends that life can get rough, that things will be hard and we will not be able to sustain ourselves without him. Even in the good times, when it’s tempting to go it alone, he reminds us to remain in him.
Each time the Jesuits talk about these gospels, they point to the relationality of Jesus’ request. We need this–at least I feel like I need this–if we are going to really thrive and bear the fruit the world needs. We need it and Jesus desires it. It’s not only a call to remain attached to the One who gives us life, it’s also a plea to stay with him. Because he wants to be close us.
At the start of finals week, one of the campus Jesuits, Br. Pat, led us in his semester-ly “Blessing of the Brains,” during which he read the gospel story about Peter walking on the water out to Jesus. When preaching on the passage, he customarily pointed out the ways Peter’s faith failed (doubting Jesus would take care of him as braved the turbulent sea) but also pointed out the ways Peter’s faith triumphed.
Peter had the courage to get out of the boat.
“You don’t have to worry about whether you can walk on the water or not, that’s Jesus’ job,” Br. Pat explained. “You just have to get out of the boat.”
Although it was a pep talk about succeeding during finals week, I felt like the words related to my pre-graduation feelings of both excitement for a new adventure but also sadness in leaving. It’s hard to leave the boat when you’ve come to really feel at home in it, when you love all of the people in it and they have loved you deeply in return.
So often my fear is that if I leave that boat, I will never find another like it, I will never again find friends so kind, love so strong or a home so embracing. This is silly, I know. Of course all of these things are out there, waiting for me to discover them in new people and places, but for now, when all I can see is the deep, unknown ocean ahead of me and the nice, comfortable boat in which I reside, the choice seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? Who would want to step out of that boat?
With this on my mind, I stopped by St. John’s, our campus church, yesterday needing some quiet time to re-center myself. Even when I slid into a pew far in the back and tucked behind some pillars in the side of the church, out of sight of the few others in there, I could still see the enormous crucifix hanging from the ceiling.
Whenever I’m in St. John’s, I think of a field trip I took there during my first freshman theology class. My professor was teaching about gothic architecture that night and wanted to show it to us up close. When we got to the place beneath the cross, he directed our gaze upward and showed us how it looks like an anchor and how the ceiling of the church looks like the hull of a ship.
Reflecting on this felt especially comforting as I sat in the church, knowing I would soon have to leave this place that has been home to me, knowing that the question I have had as a companion will once again blossom as soon as I set off: Where is home? Where can I remain?
Home is in the One who invites us to anchor ourselves in him, in the One who draws us to him and keeps us close, wrapped in his love. I know I am being called out of my boat for important reasons, for a mission that I am thoroughly excited about (serving others both at camp for a year and then as a religious sister). And I know that my entire life will be one of constantly leaving the places and I people I love in order to go to the margins where love is needed. And there is nothing I’d rather give my life to.
At the same time, that excitement doesn’t erase the feeling of loss as I step out onto the waves, saying goodbye to what has been home. But having Love to anchor myself in reminds me that I am not on this journey alone and that I journey forth with purpose.
And, really, isn’t life just a journey home, anyway?
© Anna Ferguson and A Sister Story, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Ferguson and A Sister Story with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.