Since my college days, I have had a recurring dream: On a rainy Sunday night, my car breaks down in a small town in rural south Georgia. The only gas station that boasts a real mechanic won’t be open until Monday morning. The only food available is at a combination quick-market and fried-chicken stand. And, there is only one motel. The elderly woman who runs it has curlers in her hair, wears pink house slippers on her feet, and isn’t pleased that I am registering for the night. She reluctantly hands me a room key and brusquely sends me on my way. When I open the door to the room and walk inside, I find a twin bed with a very flat pillow, thin sheets, and a rib-cord bedspread; a broken down and none-too-clean recliner; a burnt-orange shag rug on top of a worn linoleum floor; one threadbare towel and a single wash cloth; two plastic cups; a bathtub streaked with rust stains; a shower curtain barely hanging by two rings from its rod; and a black and white television set.
Once more or less settled, I take a shower with no hot water, give up on finding anything on television, and try to get comfortable in the saggy and lumpy bed. Somehow, I manage to fall asleep, but I am blasted awake about two hours later when the people who have rented the room next door start a loud party that lasts the rest of the night.. Morning comes, and I have slept very little. In the dream, I never check-out of the motel and never get my car fixed..
Dorothy Day, that delightfully difficult and remarkably faithful woman who pioneered the Catholic Worker movement among the poor in New York City, helped me to understand this dream. In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, she said that when things got tough for her, she was helped by remembering some words from St. Teresa of Avila: “Life is a night spent in an uncomfortable inn.”
Unlocked by Teresa’s words, my troubling dream holds a treasure deep inside, the same treasure an old Spiritual carries in its words and music: “This old world ain’t’a my home, I’m just ‘a passin’ through.” Why do I call that a treasure? Not because all of my life feels like a night in a cheap motel: I’ve had more than my fair share of “Ritz Carlton” moments. Not because I’m in a hurry to leave this life behind; in fact, I believe that God wants us to live this life fully, gratefully, and joyfully by drinking-in its wonder and savoring its glory.
The treasure is this promise: “Don’t be surprised when life in the here and now leaves you feeling restless, anxious, helpless and out of touch. You weren’t made for life under these conditions. So, don’t be surprised, but don’t despair either, because there is a place where your tired spirit will find rest and your anxious heart will find perfect peace. There is a home for you—the home you have yearned for all of your life. That home is not exactly a place; it is a person. Your home is with Jesus.”
According to John’s Gospel, on the night before his death, Jesus gathered with his friends and attempted to prepare them for the intense and immediate bewilderment they would feel in the wake of his death and for the eventual and breathtaking wonder they would experience in the afterglow of his resurrection. Chapters 13-17 of John tell us about the things Jesus said to his friends, about the promises he made to them and that he makes to us.
The first promise Jesus made that night was about home. He told his friends that, even though he was going away, he would come back for them and take them to a great, good place—to God’s spacious house of welcome, to God’s gracious home of joy: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The promise was for them and is for us: a home with God, a home far lovelier than this world at its loveliest, a home where joy grows because hurts are healed, and a home where laughter continues but weeping ceases.
(Written for CBFNC’s e-newsletter, May 18, 2011)