“I left the light on for you. Thanks for coming. There’s new coffee, still hot. Welcome to our home.”
I brought him in and closed the door behind him, against the night. I poked up the fire. I poured him coffee. I sat him down.
“So,” I said, “I got your message. Thank you for asking about it. Thank you for coming to get my answer. You must be a pilgrim, too. Let me tell you how it was.”
It was hard to focus on his face. Maybe the light was too low. He seemed to smile.
“Once upon a time….”
Once upon a time when I was young and the world was green, I dreamed that I—and my family if I ever had one—we would live by the ocean on the coast of Maine. That would be our home.
But I didn’t stay young, and the world didn’t stay green.
I did get a family though. I loved my wife, and she and I loved our four children, and when we were grown-ups, we bought that nineteenth century salt water farmhouse and barn, with its acres on the coast of Maine—and with its meadow, and with its apple trees, and with its forest, and with its bold rocks instead of a beach, and with its muddy slough where I moored my boat.
In winter, when blizzards stopped the world, and the snow piled itself halfway up the windows, and we slept under twice the blankets, and the air was finally still, we could hear fog horns on the sea. The fog horns were calling us safely home.
Not just us, the everyday us—the fog horns were calling our souls safely home as well.
We had our home. I was a salesman, and the sort of salesman who is a dreamer—not about sales but about freedom. We had our home; I thought we had found Innisfree. You know, as in the William Butler Yeats poem--
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, and a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
You know the rest.
Decades passed. Not just years, but decades.
We made a life, sometimes in quiet desperation, sometimes with a warrior’s mighty shout. Our children grew and went their ways, except for one of them who stayed at home.
The world’s convention was that the one who stayed at home was less able—this son who was a stayer at our home. Yet his soul was able, at providing unquestioning love.
We were in command of our life! We.
Where was our home?
Was home our old, salt water farmhouse and barn?
Or was our home within that church across the road? Was home somehow or other to be found in that churchly atmosphere, breathed upon by God, whom we did not command?
I met the living Christ in that church, while standing as a stranger stands beside the rear-most pew, being loved upon by congregants who didn’t need to notice me, but who noticed me anyhow. That meeting shook the foundations of my actual home across the road.
It changed the atmosphere inside that home across the road. Christian faith was a fruitful, not a dreamy, Innisfree.
Our children—most of them—were going away. Our farmhouse was emptier. The last two cats and the dog were dead. Even our pastor was leaving our church-home to minister in a new way and from a new location.
Where was our home?
My formerly urgent daily work—once a “home” for my time—was done; I retired. My wife’s formerly urgent daily work was not yet done, but she was scaling back to a slower pace, her “home” becoming easier to maintain.
Where was our home?
Unbidden, I found I had a new variety of work to do. I had pilgrimage work to do. It was work of a different kind from selling. It was a work of being with. It satisfied my soul. I discovered I was reaching out to everyone—to everyone, Christian or not—to everyone who sought a deep home.
I wrote a book about my life and about how I got this way.
Pilgrims read my book. Others read my book just for its light-hearted account of my life. But many of the pilgrims wrote me to say, “Hi, pilgrim” back to me.
This idea came into my head. We together can seek our deep homes together.
But first, I realized, I needed to live in my own home, first of all.
“Re-heat this coffee? I see you’ve not drunk any.”
It was hard to focus on him. And he said so little. Nothing really. Just his eyes, which were hard to see but which seemed to watch.
"You know, I lived in this book for ten years before it was done. It was my home. It’s world was my home, my deep home, where I sought to be at peace.” I held the book up.
I reached and poked the fire. “I’m thinking of home,” I mused aloud. “Say, you want to know how that book began?” I chuckled, making a joke. “How that home began?”
“Well,” I laughed, “not began began. But began after I finished writing it through for the first time, which caused me to discover what the book had been about all along, while I wrote it through for that first time.”
“The book is about how neither my wife nor I was in command of our lives, although we thought we were. That’s what the book is about. We were pilgrims, led toward home by…well, by Someone who demanded allegiance from us in exchange for salvation. You know how that is?”
He seemed to nod.
I lifted a paper from the table beside my chair. “Here’s how the book began. Before my editor and I scrapped this beginning and built the beginning that’s in the book right now. That scrapping and building was like hammering up a house and then stepping back and saying, ‘Nope. Wrong. Guess I wanted a ranch and not a colonial.’
“Here’s how it began. I’ll read it to you. Ready?
Before our conversion, my wife’s and my souls survived well enough. But they survived as makeshift rafts, cast adrift on a troublesome sea.
We experienced relief from our plight—and we came at last into harbor—when we opened our souls to Christian faith. We were rescued…and we were home.
Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Robert Frost said that. Heaven is where, when they invite you to come there, only your faith will get you in. Jesus Christ said that…or words to that effect.
How is your soul, reader?
Is your soul homesick? Do you long after relief?
If so, then please read on.
I put the paper back down on the table. I smiled.
“That’s the whole of the first chapter. No Prologue—as there is now—no nothing. I just plunged right on in. I addressed it directly to the reader, in that quaint, slightly twee way, as they used to have in the 19th century: establishing a distance between the now and the then, making me the story-teller, letting you know that I am playing with language, letting you know that I hope you will enjoy the ride.
He seemed to get it.
“Our home is in the hands of the Lord. Neither my wife nor I is in command of our lives, though we used to think we are. Our home is where the Lord sits us down. He puts us there for his purpose, not for ours.”
I smiled, and he seemed to smile, too.
“Even here, of all places the least expected. Here, in Virginia—and not the ocean end, the mountains.”
He was still hard to focus on. Maybe a trick of the angles—he seemed taller than I remembered from when he came in. He raised his hand for a moment in a gesture almost, it seemed, of blessing.
Then he was gone. He didn’t use the door.