I didn’t plan to talk to my children about terrorism or the Syrian refugees, but my children are older now and I have less control. Sometimes, I thank God I have less control.
When my daughter said her school had held a moment of silence to remember or pray for Paris, my older son asked why.
I spoke a few words about the terrorists and those who died at their hands. I mentioned the millions of children who have lost their homes and are searching for new ones.
My younger son interrupted us, impatient and eager to clear away this heavy conversation.
Sweeping his arm toward the rest of our house, he asked, “Why can’t they just stay here?”
We only stared at him.
For a moment, it was completely silent in my kitchen.
I wrote Roots and Sky because I wanted to explore questions I had been asking for years. I wrote it because I knew I wasn’t the only one asking them.
Why do I feel such longing for a home?
Is that desire a distraction from my commitment to follow the One who had no place to lay his head?
Is it even possible to feel at home this side of heaven?
As I wrote, I discovered the answer to this last question is yes.
With all the recent talk of immigrants and refugees, I have had a few terrible words lodged in my mind.
Go home! Go back to where you came from!
That has been the taunt for generations, hasn’t it? I imagine a few of my own ancestors may have heard it. Perhaps a few of yours, too.
But today, in my imagination, I hear a refugee voice crying, If only, if only, if only I could.
As I wrote my book, I encountered my own refugee roots.
In the beginning, our spiritual father and mother called paradise home. That home slipped from their grasp and there was no going back. Whether we call that ancient story myth or history or wisdom poetry, we all know the shadow of that loss.
Soon we will celebrate the good news that while we still wandered, heaven came to us. God’s message of peace and goodwill to all men was once a refugee baby in Egypt. The message wasn’t some spiritual abstraction. It was flesh and blood. Mary sheltered good news in her arms.
The story of Roots and Sky is the story of Jesus’s promise to come to us and make his home with us (John 14:23). In my life, that promise has been fulfilled in the old bricks and crumbling plaster of a farmhouse called Maplehurst. If his banner over us is love, my own particular banner is three stories high and a bit ragged around the edges.
No wonder my heart breaks for the homeless.
I have two spare beds in my house. There is a big bed in our guestroom and a little bed tucked against the wall in my office. Those extra beds are often full but not always. We are grateful for the young woman who lives in another spare bedroom. When we began looking for an old house, it was always because we wanted room for others to live with us. Her presence here is another of God’s promises kept.
Maybe if I lived on the front lines of this humanitarian crisis, I could invite homeless families to share my home. Like this man did. For now, I am seeking out other ways to help.
That incredible man and his family remind me that doing good is not complicated nor is it abstract. Rather, it is very hard and very simple.
The good news is also very simple. It might be food. It might be medicine. It might even be a large chest of drawers, hauled up too many flights of steps. All of it given, with no strings attached, in the name of Jesus.
It is in Jesus that I have found my way home to God. That is why I will leave the door of this old house open. That is why I will say what’s mine is yours.
It isn’t safe. It isn’t smart. But it is the right thing to do.
Because I am not the only one who wants to come home.
It is called the Golden Hour or, sometimes, the Magic Hour. Photographers and filmmakers revere it.
It rarely, if ever, lasts an hour. Usually it is less, though in the far north in deep winter, it might last all day. It is that period just after sunrise, or, more usually, just before sunset when the light is warm and soft and shadows are long and gentle.
During our winters, golden hour is something I glimpse from a window in mid-afternoon. A sight that causes me to pause. For a moment.
Now that it is spring, golden hour is more like a place. We might wander in and out of the house all day, but as sunset nears a new door opens. It no longer matters what indoor tasks are pressing on us (homework, dinner prep, a pile of laundry on the dining-room table). When that door opens we will stay outside until the door swings shut and every last, golden drop vanishes.
This week, in this magic evening place, I have seen a two-year-old girl, her hair the same color as the light, kneel in a sea of violets. She used a stick to stir a basket overflowing with dandelions. She was so focused on her fluffy, yellow stew that she never saw the pink magnolia petals drifting behind her back. She never noticed the bright green buds from the maple tree dusting her shoulders.
This week, in the golden place, I have seen a brother and sister roll their bodies down a green hill, over and over again. My own shadow was so long, reaching toward them, it seemed as if I could wrap shadow arms around them while they rolled. I could use shadow hands to help them back onto their feet.
In the golden hour, all kinds of burdens are lifted. Dinner and homework and laundry matter so much less. Even the daily burden of gravity seems to lift. In this light, we walk somewhere between the earth and the sky, belonging equally to both. When the two-year-old cries, “I catch the moon!” I believe her.
Here is what I have seen in the golden hour: my children are beautiful, the earth is gentle, there is no reason, ever, to be afraid.
Here is why I hesitate to share what I have seen: Baltimore burns, another young black man is dead, wars rage, a marriage is ending, young parents grieve a baby’s diagnosis, a friend has landed back in the hospital.
I am strongly tempted to keep the vision of golden hour a secret. I know that my world is not the whole world. Do I tempt you toward jealousy if I say that this week my life, between the hours of six and eight, is almost unbearably beautiful?
Yet if I am silent then some essential part of the story goes missing.
CNN and NPR tell their stories, and we feel duty-bound to hear them. What about the good news? What about those dispatches from the golden hours?
The door to that place opens and closes according to a will that is not ours. Some evenings bring clouds and rain, and we are given only darkness.
I cannot even begin to guess why this is so.
But I hope that when the clouds move in, and darkness once again surrounds me, that you – yes, you – will have the courage to share your golden visions.
That I might know more of the story and take heart.
That I might glimpse the ending of it all and have hope.
I often have a face in mind when I write out words in this space. To be honest, it’s usually my own. When most of me is stuck in boredom, doubt, or depression some small part of me still sees the truth. I write to remind myself how beautiful life is. How good God is. And how near he is.
Today I have a face in mind, but it isn’t my own. Technically, it’s not a face at all but a voice – the voice I heard on NPR yesterday morning. A young man spoke of how he found Christianity but eventually gave it up because he couldn’t bring himself to believe that those who reject Christ will be tortured for all eternity.
And my heart broke.
I wished I could put both hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes and say, “You’re giving up Jesus because of a theological position not even all Christians accept? Oh, honey, don’t do that. Trust me. You don’t want to do that.”
I can still remember my shock as a young woman, sitting down to lunch at the Benedictine monastery where I worked, when I overheard the conversation of two visitors sitting a few seats away. “Won’t people be surprised when they get to heaven and see Hitler there, too,” one woman said.
Personally, I will be very surprised if it turns out she’s right, but, today, I am less shocked at the image of Hitler in heaven than I am awed by this woman’s embrace of God’s very big love.
I also remember my shock, that same year, when a fellow church-goer admitted he didn’t think babies who die automatically go to heaven.
Clearly, we Jesus-followers don’t always see eye to eye.
Usually, I’m okay with this. I tend to agree with Augustine that if the Bible leads its reader to be more loving then the Bible has done its job. Augustine isn’t saying that accurate interpretation doesn’t matter, only that it’s okay if we get a little lost on our journeys as long as we arrive at our destination.
As someone who feels at least a little lost, most of the time, I like this idea.
At least, I did, until my daughter stood at the bus stop surrounded by our neighbors and said this Out Loud: “I wonder if Dr. Seuss is in heaven or hell?”
It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, the kids were geared up for a celebration, but they also knew that Dr. Seuss was no longer among the living. I suppose one thought led to another, and suddenly my own daughter was broadcasting a question that didn’t reflect my own spiritual preoccupations at all.
I was mortified. Here I had imagined myself a Christian unconcerned with guarding the borders of who’s in and who’s out, but my own unconcern left a theological hole that my daughter filled in for herself.
So now, as hard as it is, and as comfortable as I remain with theological diversity, I know I owe my daughter a little more. I owe that young man on NPR a little more.
I want them both to know that whether you are blinded by God’s love or by his justice you are welcome in God’s family. I want them both to know that I’ve wandered to a spot somewhere in the middle. I think when Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 God would destroy both body and soul in hell that destroy means what it sounds like it means. Not eternal torment but destruction. An end. Justice.
In other words, I believe in this good news about hell: there is a place where evil will be confined and where it will be destroyed.
And the really good news? God’s love is big. Very, very big. I may doubt we’ll meet Hitler in heaven, but I’m sure we’ll be surprised at the size of the gathering. Because God’s love? Well, it chases us down. It pursues us. And frankly, where most of us are concerned, my money’s on God.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”
Ephesians 3: 17,18