Having recently moved to New Zealand from England, thoughts of Home and Faith form much of the fabric of my reflections on life at this time. For better or worse - and as often the gleam of the 'better' blinds us to the 'Worse' - we live in a world where those of fairly modest means can move freely around a country, if not indeed around the globe.
I know this mobility well. My father, an accomplished yet underrated Sales Director, worked for several companies as I was growing up. Thus moves around England and Scotland were a constant feature of life. Once I left what I had once more come to call ‘home’, the pattern continued and I have lived in a further eleven different places. From my birth and early baptism, Life has been nomadic, my faith has had to travel with me.
In the Old Traditions there are two guiding and competing stories about faith and moving around, which might speak to such experiences. Benedict in his Rule for Monastic life added an extra vow to the classic three of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience – that of Stability. For he was aware of the spiritually restless, ‘Gyrovagues’ he called them.
We still know this type in the church, those who move restlessly around to find 'The Right Church' - passing ships without an anchorhold. Or then again, there are those looking for 'Signs and Wonders' (about whom Jesus was more than a little curt). I belong to a neo-monastic community whose Mother House has, because of powerful manifestations of the Spirit, become a bit of a honey pot for such gyrovagues. Benedict said - if you come here you stay - if you are really searching then you need to put down roots to make The Essential Discovery . . . Seek and You Will Find. Stay Put and Look! (Perhaps those of us who are ordained need to be similarly tough with newcomers??)
Then the were the Peregrinati, the Wanderers – different from the Gyrovagues – they moved as they were led and called by God’s Spirit – Abram being our example, par excellence, but many many throughout the history of the church, like Paul, like Philip, like the Celtic Saints and many nameless souls - moving more silently through the landscape of the Kingdom's Years.
Both moving - both to the casual observer the same - but a World apart. The difference? The Gyrovagues didn’t realize that He was not to be found Out There, but Within.
The Kingdom of God is, by the Resurrection of Christ Now but Not yet – it is Here, but Hidden.
The restless need to stay put, be still long enough to make The Discovery, ‘Christ in You, the hope of Glory’ as St Paul says. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert, trying to learn this one Essential lesson, that in their wanderings, God was present among them. Learning to become Peregrinati, rather than those Gyrovagues who were all too ready to rush back to Egypt – all too ready to journey away from their hearts.
Apart from the two daughters I left behind, there is but one Gift I wish I could have brought with me. Back in England, my Diocese had a small ‘Hidden Treasure’ of a retreat house tucked up a small arm of a remote Yorkshire Dale, Parceval Hall. As is the way with retreat houses, often people need a yet more solitary space, so hidden in the garden was a Poustinia, a bare cell with chair, icon and cross, a type of Desert room. A wilderness space for the encounter with God. Well, needless to say the shipping costs were a wee bit high for exporting Parceval Hall, never mind the ire of the good folk of Appletreewick and beyond.
But the truth that I have to relearn day by day, is that I brought my Poustinia with me, I don’t have to go looking. I remarked to someone that I was slightly surprised and a little disturbed to discover how ‘at home’ I felt here even on day one. He Wisely remarked, ‘well of course, God is here’.
Benedict's vow is for those who are looking for a home here. The restless who do not realise that Rest, the Wayside Inn is closer to them than they are to themselves, absent from their hearts as they are. We need such stability in order to make that discovery. In a sense it is the discovery we should make when we are young, that there is a place called Home, that in the love of parents and friends it is safe and secure - Jesus himself spent 30 years in Nazareth . . . - but from that place of safety we are then free to set out, to fly as it were, for in that earthly home we get a foretaste of our True Home.
'Christian' can be understood as 'Spirit Annointed'. The Spirit blows where it will and so as Christians we may often find that our lives become Peregrinations. I think of many friends who in response to the call, like Abram 'Go from their country and kindred and father’s house', for we Are Strangers and pilgrims, citizens of another city – on our way Home. But as we do we carry a foretaste of Home with us and allow it to leak out, that others may cease from their restless wandering and come Home too.