I am grateful for deadlines, even when I have little time, or only brief windows of it, which I often manage to fill with reading the Internet. I know my cannons will fire, because they must, but lately I’ve experienced a sort of brain-fatigue, or perhaps it’s peace (I don’t really know the difference), that’s brought me back to this position, sitting, waiting for the words to visit me.
I’ll be generous with myself and call it peace, which would be a paradigm-shift for me, not only because if it weren’t for deadlines, I wouldn’t be writing at all right now, but also because I spent many years “writing to survive.”
One of my favorite leisure activities from adolescence to young adulthood, was passionately leaving my house to take long brooding walks whilst listening to emo-pop music and imagining that I was God’s deep well of spiritual wisdom.
It was how I signaled to the cruel world (mostly my antagonistic siblings), that I had an interior life that was enjoyable to me: Yes, there’s something within me that I like and cherish and want to spend time with, and also, you’re not invited.
If I had time, I’d come home and write down thoughts as quickly as possible, and this output, I hoped, would one day be found in the manner of dead sea scrolls, and added to the Pentateuch. For, like many young Catholic girls, I wanted very badly to be the virgin mother of the second coming, or if that was not possible, I might at least become a prophet….
The prophet of uninterrupted complaint; so many rants and exhortations; so much mundanity and self indulgence; and occasionally (but it seemed worth it), a spark of insight or understanding that seemed to come from outside myself, and that I could mark as a touchstone or turning point.
Slow, minor turns, just a shade here and there, but over the years, I can account for significant movement that brought me to this place of tentative and confounding peace. For all the old grandiosity and disillusionment, I give thanks.
Still, I am a creature of habit, and sometimes experience the absence of quandary as a quandary. What is a person to do—a writing person who has spent a lifetime “making sense” on the page— when everything seems to be ship-shape? Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that all is not all right, but that I’ve lost interest in trying to order the universe with my own words.
I do not miss the old anguishes. I love peace, and that love sometimes surprises me. The idea of peace has always been a pleasant and hopeful thought, but conflict provided me with a stimulating illusion I was doing something important. The inner war was full of nuance and gradation—a heart yearning for heaven, a fallen body, and in the gap between, a world of hurt, magic, and maybe even grace.
I entertain, now, the notion that there is more grace, more magic, when my heart is quiet, even while the world is in chaos, my politics are confused, my family moving at record speed towards some form of growing up (which often feels like a falling apart), and my career remains ever at disturbing stasis. What can peace of heart do under such circumstances?
The Proclamation of the Nativity of Christ, recited in the liturgy of the hours on Christmas Eve, declares the historical events leading up to Christ’s conception by the Holy Spirit, as “The whole world being at peace.” What a strange moment in the history of mankind, a time fleeting, but ripe for the seed of a new civilization.
From then on, in Christian thought, the kingdom of God—heaven—has a discernible location, and it’s in the heart of a man. God first locates himself in the person of Christ, and then allows himself residence in each of Christ’s followers who receive him, making each Christian heart a native place.
I have struggled many times to discern in some concrete sense, where I am from: the house to which I was born, the town in which I grew up, where I live now? None of it feels like the place I could precisely call home. Sometimes I think all the old rambling—both on the road and the page—was in search of such a refuge, even if I couldn’t yet identify home as being of spiritual as well as physical origin.
In the absence of a geographical location with which to identify, I felt startled and comforted as the writing/walking—which was my imperfect prayer— slowly revealed the native place as my own heart. It is where I live, and it was fashioned, I believe, to be a place where God could also live.
And yet, the prophet is never welcome in his native place. Not only is Christ born on the road, as Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census, the first thing the Holy Family does after receiving the infant Jesus is flee to Egypt.
God is a nomad, shaking the dust from his feet in every home that refuses him (Mt. 10:12-14).
There are only a few times in my life when I blatantly refused God entry, but I sense that entry was always with reservation, a small place in the proverbial stable. No room at this inn! Unless, of course, you’re Christ the disturber, the radical, toppling tables and throwing out money-changers. In that case: Welcome to the mosh pit, Lord.
Christ the peacemaker, I believe now, presents himself. I’m as surprised by this visitation as anyone could be, and intrigued by the tentative un-troubling of my heart. I want him to stay. I want him to take over. I want to be native to this room where I sense his presence. Perhaps then, a prophet really can surface at last.
Image above is by Muhammad Ashiq, licensed by Creative Commons.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Elizabeth Duffy
Elizabeth Duffy writes at Patheos: Elizabeth Duffy: Perspectives on Catholic Life, Family, and Culture and at bettyduffy.blogspot.com. She is a contributor to Living Faith/ Daily Catholic Devotions, and has work published or forthcoming from OSV, On Faith, The Catholic Educator, and Image.