by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM Ireland 22.11.2022
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving and soon it will be Christmas. Both these feasts are traditional times for family members to travel long distances to be together to celebrate. They travel, and they “come home”. For some time now I have been thinking about this concept. I suppose being a missionary and spending my life “on the move” aids the reflection!
Coming home seems such a natural thing to do after being far flung and scattered. Do not the Artic geese travel thousands of miles to return to nesting grounds? Salmon make the long journey from deep ocean to the very rivulet or stream where they were spawned. So, coming home seems natural, sems right and fitting. Coming home denotes safety and security. Boats will return to a safe harbour before the approaching storm. It is in coming home that I am known and accepted as I am. Trust and intimacy appear to be bound up with this process of coming home.
And yet when I turn to my own experience in ministry, “coming home” becomes a might more complicated! In the past I have worked with women for whom “coming home” meant coping with abusive or battering husbands, often alcoholic or on drugs. I have watched children run the city streets, feeling safer there than in a home where they are abused, molested, or beaten by parents or stepparents. Coming home, for some, can be a frightening experience.
Even as a child, in a relatively secure and loving family, coming home can also be a complicated business. I remember once returning from Donegal and not being met at the train station by some miscommunication. My friend’s parents brought me home, much to my parents’ relief. But I was inconsolable – my mother told me how I sobbed and sobbed for hours, and nothing seemed to relieve it. As a child I could not figure out what was wrong but looking back now I wonder if trust or security had not been torn from me that day.
In 2020 I “came home” in a different sense after many years away, working in Brazil and then in USA for a time. It has had its bewildering moments. Who are all these people that others seem to know? Who are all these politicians, singers, actors? Who was in Government anyway when I left? Things fade in the mists of time, and I scramble around snatching at memories to help me re-insert. Sometimes, still, I find myself letting the conversation flow around me, trying to catch up and understand. When I sit there with an intelligent look on my face, I feel an awful fraud!
But coming home to Ireland brings its own warm feelings too. I had remembered the cold but forgotten the dark. My God, the dark of an Irish winter! But after the days of darkness come the daffodils. I can see them from my bedroom window and the chapel, and they nod at me when I start the day. I discover primroses again and watch the big fat birds waddling across the lawn. They are as big as the cats in Brazil! Then there are all those pretty daisies in the grass, and the sudden unexpected pleasure at the sound of a small stream babbling along, jumping between rocks and mossy banks. Coming home can indeed be sheer delight.
Another delight in coming home is in being welcomed. Meeting friends again, finding a connectedness and an understanding in the half-told story. Being welcomed is a nurturing and a warmth. The genuine goodness of people comes to the fore, in taking in the stranger.
Coming home reminds me also of my inner journey, now well on in my second half of life. When young, we fling ourselves out into the world to use our gifts and find our talents. Now it is time to come home, home to myself as a person. I come home in accepting myself, and in a certain cherishing and gentle nurturing of the person I have become. I come to see my not-so-pleasant character traits, but not berate or punish myself. Coming home to self asks me to treat others and myself with gentleness and compassion.
Finally, we can also look towards our final “coming home”. I do not know when the end of the journey will be, but I suspect that all the frets and present worries will fade away as the early morning mists are burnt off with the rising sun. Our final coming home is into the embrace of God. This is the God who has seen me from afar, has a heart brimming over with love and compassion, and who runs to embrace and kiss me. This love asks only one thing – my loving surrender into that embrace.