Jacob then made this vow: “If God remains with me, to protect me on this journey I am making and to give me enough bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I come back safe to my father’s house, the Lord shall be my God. This stone that I have set up as a memorial stone shall be God’s abode.”
Genesis 28: 20-22
Yesterday I was able to watch the recent film Lion. It is the true story of a 5 year old Indian boy, one of over 80,000 Indian children who go missing every year, who becomes separated from his brother and caught on a train that takes him over a thousand miles away from his home. After a harrowing time on the streets of Calcutta, the boy, Saroo, winds up in an orphanage and is then adopted by an loving Australian couple and raised in Tasmania. Once he becomes an adult, however, he becomes obsessed with his origins and his birth mother, brother, and sister. At one point in the film, he says to his girlfriend, “You can never know what it’s like for me knowing that every day for 25 years my mother is searching for me.”
The power of Saroo’s story and of the film based on it lies, for all of its extraordinary and unique aspects, in its tapping of a universal experience. As Jacob says today, “If God remains with me . . . and I come back safe to my father’s house, the Lord shall be my God.” Perhaps Saroo is mistaken. Might it be that if we all go deeply enough, we do know at least something of the truth that someone is constantly searching for us, and that our deepest longing is to be found by and reunited with that One.
At the point at which he truly becomes aware of where he came from, Saroo finds the pain of separation unbearable. He lives a life of privilege while somehow remembering his impoverished origins. At one point, as he explains why he is taking a course in hotel management, he says it is to make as much money as possible. It seems that this is the beginning of his recognition of his self-alienation. Life has become for him highly domesticated, and that domestication threatens to separate him from what is most important for him and in him.
Saroo’s longing for the ones who are searching every day for him is a searching for origins, for the truth of who he is. In the working paper on Xaverian spirituality, Brother Reginald Cruz describes Jan van Ruusbroec’s understanding of eenvoudige, which we can translate in English as “one fold” or “one ground.”
The ordinary, then, is the ground where we were first located, where God had known us – and delighted in what we already were and had – before we came to know and define ourselves in another way.
The life of all of us is, at its root, a longing to live in and live from this ground of our original selves. We have always about us, no matter how well we have domesticated our lives, a sense of longing and alienation. As Saroo, all of us carry a sense that we belong to someone who is at once constantly searching for us and yet still remains at a distance. From the moment of humanity’s first sin, God has been searching for us with the question, “Where are you?”
So much of what we do in life, of our attempts to domesticate life, is born of our anxiety, our fear of the depth and power of our longing. We look to pad our bank accounts and to build our egos as an attempt to avoid the suffering of our own alienation. At least in the West, we are so busy quite on purpose. We lament how much we have to do, but we need there to be many things to occupy us. If there were not, we would have to truly reckon with that in us which longs to come back safe to our father’s house. To become truly “ordinary” means to live in and from our own ground, whether we are well or ill, at home or abroad, busy or at rest.
Sometimes while awake during the night or in the early morning, I’ll pray the rosary as a means of steadying and focusing my mind. As I thought about the Visitation this morning, I thought about how Mary went to Elizabeth because it was what she must do. I then thought of Jesus telling Zaccheus that he must come to his house that day. When we are truly living in and from our own ground, which is where God knows us and where we live in God, there is always just the one thing that must be done. It may be simple; it may be complex. It may be difficult; it may be easy. Yet, it is the one thing in the moment that is asked uniquely of us. Doing what we must would mean that we would never feel busy. It would be our response to what is needed in the moment out of our deepest longing and originality.
It is in this experience, perhaps, that the common meaning of ordinary converges with the mystical one. In the unique origin and ground of each of us, we are a task, an assignment, a mysterious call for the world. That call is for us to do the one thing necessary for us, not for us to save the world. To respond to the call and the task that is ours may not attract notice; it may never result in our being memorialized and recognized. It may well be the most ordinary of tasks. Yet, it is our experience of homecoming. It is how God is to be revealed in the world through us, out of the ordinariness and uniqueness of our ground. “The freedom and liberation never before imagined,” of which the Xaverian Fundamental Principles speak, comes from doing only what we must. To learn what that is, we must first cease doing all that it is not, all that is not necessary for us to do. We must re-learn how to sit still. We must cease to fear and learn to trust the pain of our own alienation and longing. That pain, as it did for Saroo, will lead us home, if we let it.
The Gods Are Here
This is no mountain
But a house,
No rock of solitude
But a family chair,
But life appearing
As life anywhere domesticated,
Yet I know the gods are here,
And that if I touch them
I will arise
And take majesty into the kitchen.
Jean Toomer (1894-1967)