Home.

August 12, 2013

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I fell in love with sea turtles on a summer night 26 years ago.  I was on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia and during a late evening beach ride we came across a large female sea turtle laying eggs.  For an hour we stayed with her, cheered her on, marveled at the phosphorus on her shell that glowed long after we stroked her and offered encouraging words.  All the while she continued to lay eggs.  Unassuming, gentle in her presence and open to sharing the experience with a whole group of strange biped creatures, we cheered and she gave, and gave and gave until the last egg landed in the pit she had dug out.  That night, the heat of the evening, the glimmer of stars and phosphorus, the sound of the low tide, the smell of the ocean has stayed with me and is a memory I hold dear.

A few years later while working at a summer camp on a beach in South Carolina, I had the great fortune of helping clear the way for some turtle hatchlings who were breaking through the sand and sea oats striving to make it to the ocean.  The statistics for survival are dismal once a sea turtle makes it to the ocean but even getting there takes great effort and is not without its own obstacles and dangers.  We lined the path, cleared the runway and watched as hatchling after hatchling inched out of the nest and down the sandy path towards the ocean.  Precious, dedicated, determined, flippers longing to touch the water- inching their way towards the sea- not worried about what will happen next, that was not a worry they could afford to ponder.

Do you know that sea turtle hatchings will maneuver their body so their head faces the ocean no matter what direction they are moving?  Before we knew it was a bad idea- transferring scent onto an animal, I picked up a baby turtle, turned to face the cabins and the turtle turned its body so that its movement was towards the sea.  I turned to face down the beach, and yet this tiny little creature moved within my hand so that every flip of its flipper was a move towards its next destination.  I can still feel the rough and simple flippers in my hand.  Tiny, little, brownish green, with a single purpose- to get home.

I think about that as a 40 year old priest who has struggled and wrestled and longed for and experienced various and different definitions of home over the course of my years. And hindsight is a blessed and wonderful gift to have when sitting comfortably on my couch with a nice glass of red wine after an engaging Bible study.  My time as both priest and prodigal child has been filled with my own heart turning and turning and turning again towards the sea- towards home.  Home, although the address of my physical home has changed several times, the feeling of home has remained the same.  Home is a place, a feeling, an experience that asks me to be real, authentic, genuine and without the desire or need to be anymore than that.

Now, I didn’t know that definition of home growing up.  In fact, I didn’t know that until a few years ago and only after I spent the better part of my 20s and early 30s being anything other than that.  There were traces of my authenticity in every relationship- working, personal or otherwise but the real essence of who I am was missing because I really didn’t know how to answer the question- who are you?  I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, an employee, a girlfriend- but that never really covered the deeper need of understanding who I am.  Who I am becoming.  Who God created me to be.  I didn’t know where my sea was.  I didn’t know how to move my heart in the direction of home because for lack of a better example, I was homeless.  I wasn’t even at home in my own skin because I had spent so many years running away from home- running away from who God created me to be.  I was spinning my wheels, trying to make a life out of a lifeless situation and I was still looking for the silver lining in an awfully dark sky.

My experience is mine and not a cookie cutter experience to try and throw on top of your own life, the one you are living right now- I wouldn’t be that bold or that rude.

That being said, I will venture writing the rest of this post.

I get it.  I really do.  I get all the reasons why you might feel going to church is lame or not something you can subscribe to.  Maybe you want proof that God exists- and that is the case, more power to you.  Maybe you want answers that are clear and concise- and if that is the case- fantastic.  If you happen to find them, will you please share your sources?  Maybe you don’t want to make that kind of commitment- totally there with you on that one.  It does take effort to go to church.  But if your reason to not go to church or temple or the Mosque or any other place of worship is based on an experience you had 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 or more years ago- I will ask you to reconsider.  Seriously.

Try again.  Because going to church or worshipping is about more than just going to services, it is about joining in a community, a community that will challenge you, celebrate you, help you discover gifts within you that are given by God and offer you ways to give those gifts back to the community and world around you.  But it takes showing up first.  It takes understanding that the world has changed, you have changed and somewhere in that beautiful artful dance of change, perhaps you may discover that faith practices have also changed allowing room for growth, discernment, discovery, relationships that are meaningful both between the hearts sitting in the pews and between your heart and God’s heart.  It is possible.  It has happened.  I can only speak from my own perspective and journey- but if running from God could count as training for a marathon, I would be a world champion ultra marathoner.  But my heart yearned for the sea; for home.  And I discovered home through returning to the church.  I discovered home in the familiar words of the prayers, knowing that the prayers hadn’t changed, but I had; the church had and that made coming home that much more important to me. In looking back over the years I spent trying to fill that void of home with so many other things that seemed so important at the time, I can see that my head and flippers and heart were always turning back towards home- I just kept on running though.  Running until my heart outlasted my legs, my willfulness exhausted I surrendered the race and I pointed my head towards home knowing that walking through those doors on Sunday morning was going to be the hardest obstacle I have ever taken on in my life.

A wave of release washed over me however, in that surrendering.  A wave that was as warm as a sun kissed day on the beach- a wave that disarmed all of the voices in my head and gave way to the voice that had known my name before I was even born- The loving voice of our creator calling me home, welcoming me home, clearing the way for me to turn my heart towards home.

I am not big on cliches- I find them trite and somewhat lazy.  What I really want you to know- if you are still reading then high five- you have a great deal of endurance- I want you to know that no matter if you worship or not, believe or not, pray or not, are confused or have all the answers- that you are a beloved child of God and that same God is ready when you are.  Ready to be the ocean your heart is longing to find.