Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coming Home to Spiritual Community

A dog had gone missing for a couple of days. Before he was eventually found, his owner posted a sign on every tree and telephone pole she could find within 20 miles of her back yard,

The sign said:

Help… Lost Dog.

He’s a mixed breed, kind of smallish. He has oversized paws, a long body, a stomach that almost drags on the ground at times, a large nose and big floppy ears that he tends to trip over now and again.

He has a large red scratch on the left side of his nose where he recently did battle with the neighbor’s cat. (The cat won.)

We need to find him because he is blind in one eye. He has a noticeable bald spot on his tail from when the German Shepherd down the street bit him. The edge of his right ear is a little ragged and chewed; another permanent souvenir from yet another battle with another neighborhood dog, a terrier that time I believe.

There is also a big red scar about two inches long between his eyes from when he was hit by a car.

If you find him please call us and we will come immediately to pick him up.

Oh, and finally, he answers to the name. . . Lucky.

Tuned to Home

Lucky! Or, is it lucky? Is the survival instinct of an animal luck, or an ingrained intuition? Is the ability of animals to find home when they are lost a matter or luck or some finely tuned inner radar?

There are some amazing stories of animal homecomings.

In the 1950’s a cat traveled 2500 miles from Florida to California. Her family moved to California and left her behind in Florida. It took her over 2 years, but disheveled and weary, she eventually arrived at a home she had never seen before. Can you imagine the determination? How do they do that? Maybe animals sense the subtle energies that connect us more acutely than humans.

Then there is the clownfish. Remember Nemo? After clownfish hatch from their eggs, they spend 10 to 12 days in the open sea, carried out by currents. But they often miraculously find their way back to the reefs where they were born. It turns out the colorful fish are not fools. They sniff for leaves that fall into the sea from rainforests near their coral reef homes. The lure of home fills their senses.

Crocodiles in Australia were moved away from their homes as part of an experiment. They were then tracked as they traveled 400 kilometers in 20 days to arrive home. How do they do that? Were they following the sun with some sort of crocodile compass, or do they have some geographic memory built into their DNA? Maybe they followed the trail of unsuspecting tourists they had devoured along the river. However they did it, home was calling, and they were determined to come home.

There are many theories explaining the incredible ability of animals to come home. No matter how you explain it, animals seem to be deeply in touch with home. Maybe home is where they feel most fully alive and safe. They are at one with their senses and a deep intuition, and they know that home is the place they are connected. Is it the same for humans?

People Coming Home

hhWe have our own connections to home. I heard a great homecoming story about a soldier stationed in Korea. While in Korea he had asked his wife in the States to send him a harmonica to occupy his free time and keep his mind off of the local women. The wife sent the best one she could find, along with several dozen music books.

Eventually, he finished his tour and was sent home. When he arrived home, he rushed through the front door. “Oh darling” he gushed, “Come here . . . let me look at you . . . let me hold you! I’ve missed you so much! You are the one and only woman in my life.”

The wife, keeping her distance, said, “Good to have you home. Now before we go any further, prove your love for me and play that harmonica.”

Home is a place where the full range of human experience is played out. During the week, I was honored to preside at a wedding on Spring Lake. Four generations gathered in the family cottage; ranging from a little two year old miracle to a sharp eighty-six year old matriarch. The family shared stories about summers spent at the cottage, quirky houseguests and family reunions.

Eventually conversation turned to the tragic lake accident that had taken place within view of the cottage a week earlier. Voices softened as we mourned the loss of a teenager, taken before his time, and we wondered about many lives in disarray. Gathered together in this family home, we tried to make sense of the loss and encouraged each other to live more fully and compassionately.

We were connected to each other. Two year old was connected to eighty-six year old. They were bookends on a family story that was packed full of all the stuff of life. In joy, we were connected to the newlyweds. In sorrow we were connected to the families affected by the tragedy. By story, we were connected to the many people who had lived and loved in the family cottage. In the face of such joy and such sorrow, all the differences just fade into the background. We are all spiritual people on our own human journeys.

Being at Home With Growth

When you feel at home, you don’t need to have all the answers. You feel safe to ask the questions, even if the questions make you a heretic.

As T. S. Eliot said:

“We shall not cease from exploration 

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.”

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres once said, “I was coming home from kindergarten- well they told me it was kindergarten. I found out later I had been working in a factory for ten years. It’s good for a kid to know how to make gloves.”

The journey home is sometimes a surprising one; and one where you are allowed to change directions and make mistakes. There is a great story about the time when the famous preacher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was giving a sermon. He was in the middle of the sermon when he suddenly paused and said, “I no longer believe the previous statement.” When you are at home, you are free to change your mind and know that people may roll their eyes, but they will still accept you.

When you feel at home, you are safe to question old beliefs; and stop believing them if they no longer make sense to you. You are free to rid yourself of assumptions and prejudices that are stale reminders of another time. When you feel at home, you are courageous and free.

When you feel at home, you are free to grow and change and make mistakes; and learn and heal and do it in your own time; and know that others will stand with you through your craziest moments. We may roll our eyes, but we love you anyway.

Home Where All Are Welcome

Who is welcome in a spiritual home? Everyone! What happens in a spiritual home? There is a beautiful Jewish story about a person who comes to a rabbi and says, “Tell me about Heaven and Hell.” And the rabbi says, “I’ll show you.”

So the rabbi takes him to a home and says, “This is Hell.” In the home were a group of people who were hungry and miserable. They were sitting at a large table with a huge pot of stew on it, and they were holding large spoons. As he looked closer, he realized that the handles on their spoons were so long that they couldn’t get them into their mouths.

The person says, “Now show me Heaven.” So the rabbi takes him to another home and again there are many people around the table, and a great pot of stew in the center of the table. Again the people have very long spoons, but these people are joyful, blissful, and satisfied. As he looks closer, he sees that in this home they are feeding each other. That’s all they can do with their long spoons. What do we do in spiritual community? We feed each other! We practice being human together.

In the post exilic Hebrew world, they looked for euphemisms to avoid using the name of God. One of the euphemisms they used was heaven. It was a practice that carried into the New Testament world, which is why the New Testament alternates between describing the ideal home as the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. Heaven was another name for the presence of God.

When do you experience the presence of God? You experience God WITHIN when you are at home with how you are showing up in the world. You experience God BETWEEN when the differences between you and others fade away and you become one. You experience God BEYOND when you find your way home like a lost dog; and you can’t even explain how you know, but you know that you have arrived home.

Coming Home to Your Center for Spiritual Growth

Do you feel at home in this spiritual community? How did that happen? How did you find your way home? Did you take the route via another religion or denomination? Did you arrive looking disheveled and weary like the long lost cat?

This spiritual community is a family cottage where you are fed and you feed others. In this family cottage, two year old miracles feed eighty-six year old matriarchs, believers feed atheists, Christians feed Muslims, straight people feed gay people, and vice versa.

If you resonate with the vision of home that is inclusive and welcome, then you have come home. Take off your shoes and relax. Pull up a pew and make yourself at home. You have come home to your spiritual community. What a relief!

You can be yourself and allow others to be themselves. You have grown and healed from being here. Now stand alongside others as they grow and heal.

I leave you with the words of the mystic Rumi-

Come, come, whoever you are
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times

Come, yet again, come, come.

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