Sunday, September 24, 2006

Exile and Our Return

I was thinking about what to write early this morning and really wasn't getting any ideas. Nothing patristic was jumping to my head. While there is lots of activity in Anglican blogsophere with the reaction to the Global South's meeting this week exploding into the ether, I have made a rule not to make pronouncements on such contentinous topics until I've read news from less impassioned sources (which I haven't done) and until I have time to think, pray and reflect. So, I was a little stumped.

Then, I sat down this morning and read a little bit from Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk and an idea came to my head. Exile. Why not exile?

I have to admit that I'm particularly susceptible to writing about the experience of exile. Even before I became Christian, I found the Biblical stories which featured exile particularly enticing. I wrote a story in late high school on the experience of the Babylonian exile; not as one whose faith held, but as one who was really not sure about anything (a reflection of my own spiritual state at the time). A few years later, I wrote a Tower of Babel re-write as a goodbye gift for a somewhat estranged friend. In both stories, the experience of exile was very strong, but there really was not prospect that that exile would ever end. What interested me at that time was an experience of forsakenness, a time when faith seems to fail, but life needs to keep going.

In many ways, I think that was an expression of where I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually. At the time, I really couldn't think how a life with God looked, but, in many ways, I felt I was missing something; that I was in exile from something I couldn't quite identify. At the same time as these stories, I was writing essay after essay in university on religious topics and talking to anyone who'd listen about faith and my lack thereof. The irony, of course, is that, in retrospect, I recognize that a friend, who commented gently one night that she thought I had rather more faith than I gave myself credit for, was probably exactly right. How can someone experience feelings of exile, if he didn't have an idea of missing what he is exiled from? In that sense, those feelings of exile were the first stirrings of the grace that would set me on the road of return to God and my home with him.

It took several years, but I, finally, realized that exile, at least in the Christian sense, always contains the promise of return. At least, it does in the Bible. The people of Israel experienced their flight from Egypt and their wanderings in the desert as an exile from the good things of Egypt, but found, perhaps to their surprise, that the land promised to them by God was a better home to return to. Those sent out on the Babylonian exile, to their surprise, found themselves able to return after seventy years. Then, there is us, called to be God's people in this alien world, but knowing that there is a home to which we are returning. We aren't there yet, but I know we're on that road.

It wasn't until I realized that the road to my return from exile was open and had always open that I realized that I had been the one who was wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. It wasn't until I openned myself to God's grace and accepted his working to renovate my life that I started down that road of return. In my heart, I am no different that those Israelites who, wandering in the desert, get distracted by every which thing and have to be prodded back to the road which promised their return. Yet, with God's help, I am on this path and look foward to my return to the home promised me by Jesus.

With that in mind, I offer this poem, this prayer:

I have seen my new country,
Resplendent and full of joy.
I have seen my new country,
Full of hope and grace.
Teach me how to cross
In flood and draught
That Jordan of my soul
To that land
Promised of old.

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