Home Really Is Where Our Hearts Are

My granddaughters recently spent a weekend with Grandpa and me. All the while, the girls kept us running. In an effort to sap a bit of their endless energy, we walked to a nearby playground. It was the perfect haven for the girls to climb, run, slide and swing with abandon. Grandpa and I watched from the swings until we were drafted into their play. This merry-making continued throughout the afternoon, our walk home and the remainder of their stay with us. When I wondered aloud how I kept up with classrooms filled with equally energetic children, my dear husband reminded me that I was a few years younger when I did so. I reluctantly admitted, “I suppose so…”

The week after the girls left, a bout with nostalgia beckoned me back to that playground in spite of the rain that threatened. Since no one else was silly enough to risk being soaked, I reclaimed the swing I’d occupied a few days earlier. When I taught, I occasionally took a turn swinging with the children just to assure them that I enjoyed playing, too. When I was a little girl, I did the same on the well-worn swings in my backyard. Those swings also served as my favorite place to contemplate life. As I sat on that swing, I found myself in need of doing just that.

I gave in to my mood as I slowly eased myself back and forth. The seemingly endless misery which had punctuated the news from both nearby and afar had filled me with melancholy. I wondered if the approach of Independence Day 2018 had contributed to those feelings. My Dad passed away the morning of July 4, 1959; it is my late uncle’s birthday and we attended my Aunt Rita’s wake on this date some years later. Perhaps it was my anticipation of the fireworks which would soon brighten the night sky. This family connection inspires fireworks anytime and anywhere to shout “resurrection” to me. I secretly wished that someone nearby would engage in a preemptive launch to test his or her Independence Day contraband. When no one obliged, I closed my eyes to visualize fireworks from my past, from childhood, from the bicentennial celebration in Washington D. C, and those that touched us all ten months after September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget the Statue of Liberty standing in all of her glory as fireworks of every color formed a sparkling halo around her head.

Unfortunately, that mental image of Lady Liberty intensified my unrest. When I was in high school chorus, we sang an inspiring selection drawn from the inscription at Lady Liberty’s feet: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the restless refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, your homeless tempest-tossed to me… I lift my lamp beside the golden shore. Patriotism meant many different things when I sang those words in the sixties. Still, I couldn’t deny the fullness which swelled up in my heart every time these words passed my lips. Those feelings emerged again as I sat on that swing. This nation’s willingness to display these mighty words at our shore has demanded quite a commitment from all who call this country our home. As I continued to swing back and forth, I wondered how we will fulfill this commitment in the days ahead. Before I could begin my list of suggestions, a drop of rain hit my forehead and trickled down my nose. When several additional drops quickly followed, I abandoned that swing and ran home.

Having a place to call home is a basic need which we all share. The one who first penned “Home Sweet Home” wrote much more than a cliché to be immortalized by crafters. Indeed, this author’s wisdom explains Jesus’ pain in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6). It was early in his ministry and Jesus had done well. He’d cured the sick and worked other wonders which attracted quite a following. In the passage cited, Jesus had returned home to the place he’d grown up among his loving parents and neighbors. There, Jesus would be himself. There, Jesus would relax and share his message without restraint. Sadly, as it happened, it was there that Jesus experienced unexpected and painful rejection. Jesus’ community believed he was simply too good to be true. They chose to dismiss Jesus rather than to recognize that God had been at work in and through their neighbor. That lack of acceptance pushed Jesus away to continue his mission elsewhere.

Every new day brings us opportunities to welcome, to support and to comfort one another. Each of us knows the rejection Jesus felt far too intimately to allow it to touch others. God calls us to be the torches which light the way home for all of our sisters and brothers. Whether here at home in Lake County, in a city across the country or on another continent, we are each called to care for those we meet along the way. You know, Jesus was most at home in the places where he was accepted and where he was free to lovingly serve God’s people. We are most at home when we experience and when we do the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always At Home

Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I hosted a family gathering. The unusually amazing weather coaxed us outdoors for a bit. Our granddaughters and their cousin Gabriel took full advantage of this opportunity. They played a kids’ version of Bags and then moved on to running and climbing wherever possible. Not long into their play, our granddaughters shed their sandals and flip-flops to accommodate all of that movement.

When the rest of the family left, our younger granddaughters remained to spend the night. Mommy and Daddy were attending a send-off party for a Marine friend, while their older sister was invited to a birthday sleepover. Of course, Grandpa and I were thrilled with the opportunity to spend more time with Lauren and Claire. After allowing the girls some additional playtime while I finished the dishes, we ushered them upstairs to dress for bed. In the process, I noted the hour and the dirt on my granddaughters’ feet. Because it was too late to engage in bath time, I decided to wash their feet. When Claire began to balk, I reminded her of my favorite foot-washer. “You know, Claire, Jesus was a foot-washer, too. When he had his last supper with his friends, he washed their feet.” I went on to explain that Jesus did this to teach the disciples that they should do the same thing. I told Claire this means that when someone needs us to take care of them, we need to take care of them. “You needed your feet washed, so I’m washing your feet. I’m going to wash your face and hands because they’re dirty, too.”

Poor Lauren had watched long enough. Before allowing me to go on, she added, “Grandma, Jesus washed their feet; then they went to the garden; then they came and took him away and they killed him. Then, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead! Jesus didn’t just wash their feet, Grandma. He did everything for them!” With that, our feet-, face- and hand-washing proceeded with the full cooperation of both granddaughters. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing that our bathroom and bedrooms had been transformed into holy places.

Sunday morning, Lauren and Claire joined Grandpa and me for Mass. Because Grandpa is still recovering from his foot surgery, we sat together. During Father Bernie’ homily, Claire eased her way onto my lap. She nuzzled into me as she listened. At the same time, Lauren cuddled with Grandpa. Though she may not have processed the entirety of Father Bernie’s comments, Lauren listened just the same. As we sat, it occurred to me that the holy aura which had transformed our home the night before was doing the same here in our church. What a blessing it was to feel so fully at peace in both places.

When I read Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:1-6), I found Jesus in the midst of a visit to his home town. Unfortunately, Jesus’ neighbors and friends weren’t as willing to accept him as my granddaughters had been the night before. Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes would not acknowledge that one of their own was so closely aligned with the Almighty. They refused to believe that Jesus was capable of sharing the best of God’s gifts with them. Their powerful rejection devastated Jesus so much so that he could not perform the wonders which so easily flowed from him elsewhere. Though Jesus was physically home, he no longer felt welcomed there. So it happened that Jesus moved on to those places where his presence was appreciated and he truly felt at home.

You know, my granddaughters aren’t fond of hand- or face- or foot-washing. Still, they endured these inconveniences because they are fond of Jesus and their grandma who welcomed Jesus into what could have been a difficult moment. At one time or another, we all find ourselves in the midst of people or circumstances which test our endurance. These are the times when we must remember that we are at home with Jesus wherever we find ourselves. Unlike the Nazarenes of his day, we recognize the wisdom of welcoming Jesus into the situation and the company at hand. When do so, the space in which we find ourselves takes on the same holy aura which transformed my home and our parish church. When we do so, we ensure that we and Jesus are at home regardless of where we find ourselves.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved