As we near the end of the season for two of the programs that I lead at my church, Photography as a Spiritual Practice and Telling Our Stories: Creating a Spiritual Legacy, the themes for both programs have converged on “Coming Home.” Christine Valters Paintner describes “the practice of coming home” as the last of the eight practices of a journey within. (The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Sorin Books, 2015)
If [we enter into our life pilgrimage] mindfully and with a whole heart, each encounter on the road has the potential to transform. The pilgrim returns home not with all the answers. Instead, they receive better questions; questions that bring the pilgrimage experience into daily life and reveal depth in all they see around them . . . Ultimately, the pilgrimage leads us back home again. We always return bearing gifts for the community. We are always called back to share what we have been given with others. This will look different for each of us. We are also called to a new relationship with “home.”
I have been traveling more than usual this month: first to Chile for an engineering education meeting, and then to Washington, DC for a family wedding. Both trips involved good reunions with friends and family, good food and drink, and events that met the planners’ expectations, and the latter trip, time with my grandniece and grandnephew. When I was taking leave of friends and colleagues before my trip to Chile, I heard many of them say, “Have a good trip!” or “Safe traveling!” One of them, however, responded, “Come back home to us!” I thought that was an especially meaningful send-off.
Now that I have come home, how do I recuperate from travel? I usually spend a considerable amount of time before travel in planning and preparation. However, I sometimes forget about all that is required to come home again after travel. Just as I need to be adaptable and flexible to be a successful traveler, I need solitude and rest for successful homecoming. I take advantage of daily naps to restore my physical wellbeing. I don’t always recognize my need for solitude or give myself permission to stay home from work or social engagements. Time alone is the time that enables me to stay tuned to God and to get replenished for the days and weeks ahead.
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa sets aside a week each month for a silent retreat. (God Has A Dream, Image Books, 2005) I can barely manage a week each year, although I manage to set aside a four-day weekend a couple times a year. Jesus took time out from his active ministry to go off alone to pray, and He encouraged the apostles to do the same. The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. (Mark 6:30-31)
When I returned from Chile, it took two full days of alone time for me to transition from the community of my colleagues in South America to my colleagues at my church. I had a similar experience transitioning from family concerns to those of neighbors in my home community after my return from DC. More than anything, I needed time in prayer on my lanai. I needed to reflect on the people and situations I had encountered in my travels, and whether or not my presence had been a blessing to them, as theirs was to me.
One way that is helpful to me in reaching closure with one experience in order to move on to the next is the practice of writing gratitude lists – a list of all the reasons for which I am thankful. These lists help me to focus on all the good memories and combat the fatigue and foggy-headedness that result from too many planes, trains, and automobiles. These are the particular reasons for which I am now grateful – in addition to being at home once again on my lanai:
I thank God for
- Safe and on-time travel
- The friendship of colleagues in Chile and Colombia
- Dinner at El Catorce and Hacienda Patagonia in Concepción
- Pisco sours – the national drink of Chile (Peru also claims it!)
- Seeing my work of the past 10 years come to fruition in Latin America
- Good wedding celebrations at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, DC
- Seeing the pandas at the Washington National Zoo with my “grands”
- Reading Aqualicious with my “grands”
- A rented house with a big backyard for the “grands” to run, jump, and climb
- Memories . . . so many good memories
I leave you with a couple questions to ponder that I “borrowed” from the books of Sr. Janet McLaughlin and Christine Valters Paintner. I welcome your reflections.
Q. What would it be like to move through the world and, no matter where you found yourself, to recognize yourself as fully at home?
Q. What are your expectations about where you “should” be at this point on your journey? Did you have a vision for what “home” would look like? Can you release any thoughts about what the journey is supposed to look like and allow yourself to be where you are?