For three crimes of Israel, and for four, / I will not revoke my word: / Because they sell the just man for silver, / and the poor man for a pair of sandals. / They trample the heads of the weak / into the dust of the earth, / and force the lowly out of the way.
A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
One of our deepest emotional and spiritual needs is for home, for a place where we feel rooted in the world. I know for certain that this has been one of the deepest longings of my own life. What is home for us, though? Some speak of it as that geographical place where we were raised, where we were brought into the world through a specific family and community. Once, people lived generation after generation in the same village. The family homestead may have been on plots of earth that had supported the family line as long as could be remembered.
For others, home is relational. We live today in a time where continuity of place has become rare. Yet, when the moves occur within the bonds of a close nuclear family, it is possible to carry home with us in the presence of those we most love. Yet today, Jesus tells the scribe who seeks to follow him that to be his disciple means to have “nowhere to rest his head.”
One of the reasons we experience such a need for stability, for a home and homestead, is that the continual flow of life is difficult for us. There is enormous pathos for us in the fact that everything and everyone comes and goes, that the cycle of life, death, and rebirth is the way of our lives. We long to feel a solidity, a stability that can reassure us as we experience such constant change.
The call of Jesus is a most drastic and radical one. It is a challenge to cease searching for home, both in terms of a place to lay our heads at night and even in terms of those most important in our lives, our relationships with parents and family. To follow Jesus is to die to the expectations of security and stability we long for in favor of a life that is rooted elsewhere. It is to find a home, to find rest in what Matthew calls the kingdom of heaven.
As a student of literature, I have always found the theme of homecoming a powerfully attractive one. As a child I lived with what was, at least in my experience, an environment that lacked the continuity and stability I craved. I was often alone, even as a young child, and the result of this was not a greater independence but rather a search for a longed-for security that I could never quite attain. As a pre-adolescent and later, it would take very little disruption or separation to throw me into an anxious and almost desperate state. It is not inconceivable that an aspect of my attraction to the highly-structured religious life of the early sixties was what appeared to me to be its security and stability.
One result of this early life experience was a deep and largely unconscious sense of loneliness. My personal reaction to this powerful and potentially overwhelming emotion was to distance myself from it, to develop multiple means of dissociating from my own inner emotional life, and as a result, my deepest spiritual life. The spiritual life for me as a young person was rather a longing for a state that was somehow to be achieved outside of and as an escape from my own inner anxiety and desperation. If I could succeed in “perfecting” myself I would find the stability and security that I craved.
The great irony, then, is that as I searched without for a home, I became more and more distant from its real possibility. The greater my demands on others to provide for me what they could not, the more I became alienated from myself. This is a diminished analogue to what St. Augustine famously relates in Book X of the Confessions: “I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you.”
In his book Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Parker Palmer quotes John Middleton Murry.
For the good [person] to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a strait and narrow path compared to which his [or her] previous rectitude was flowery license.
When Jesus tells the scribe that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” he is asserting that to follow him wherever he goes will require a willingness to walk the “strait and narrow path” of integration, of forsaking being good for being whole. This path, however, requires first that we come home to ourselves, that we forsake every single illusion that we hold about life and about ourselves. My own experience of even feebly attempting to walk this path is more a spiral-like rather than a straight line experience. With each recognition and new awareness, I discover that this is just another moment in facing my own illusions, that I shall never experience being fully at home in this life because I shall always be at a distance from the Lord within. The consolation is that, as Augustine says, God is always with us, even though we are never fully with God.
Jan van Ruusbroec speaks of the deepest life as a life of rest, because it is where our restless searching and seeking ends. It is resting in the truth of God who is at home with us, as we truly are. It is, perhaps, the end of which St. Paul speaks: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
This life of violent dislocation from the truth of who we are is the source of all the violence and evil we inflict on each other. The words of the prophet Amos ring true in every age because we never cease inflicting on each other the effects of our own self-ignorance. Adrian van Kaam makes explicit the connection between dissociation and violence:
What is the primal act of violence? We believe it is the defensive refusal of the potential fullness of our awareness. It is the denial of the spiritual dimension of our life. All other acts of inner and outer violence against self and others are conditioned by this primal act. This basic violence is the root cause of a blindness that refuses to face the repulsive reality of violent behavior. (Fundamental Formation, p. 158.)
We live in a time of almost universal repression of the spirit. This is an act of “defensive refusal of the potential fullness of our awareness.” When we live for power or greed alone, when we have been formed to believe that this is the only reason for living, we are committing a profound act of self-violence. This violent mode of being will inevitably be the way we respond to whatever, in its mystery and strangeness, threatens us. So, we come to fear the just and the poor, the weak, and the lowly. As we refuse the awareness of the spirit in ourselves, so we refuse to acknowledge the presence and the claim of the “other” on us.
Ruusbroec reminds us that when we “come home” to the love of God with us, in the truth of who we are, we discover that the love we now realize is “a love common to all.” We are no longer afraid of “the other,” because we are the other. We cease then to violently refuse the truth of our own deeper self, and so have no need to defend ourselves from the truth of the others.
I also value integrity. But that word means much more than adherence to a moral code: it means “the state or quality of being entire, complete, and unbroken,” as in “integer or “integral.” Deeper still integrity refers to something—such as a jack pine or the human self—in its “unimpaired, unadulterated, or genuine state, corresponding to its original condition.”
When we understand integrity for what it is, we stop obsessing over codes of conduct and embark on the more demanding journey toward being whole. Then we learn the truth of John Middleton Murry’s remark, “For the good [person] to realize that it is better to be whole than to be good is to enter on a strait and narrow path compared to which his [or her] previous rectitude was flowery license.”
Parker J. Palmer, Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Chapter 1