On Returning to Xavier

“So??? What do you think??” With heads tilted nearly perpendicular, arms spread, and palms shrugging upward, these were the questions that most frequently followed A. hugs, B. inquiry into my well being, and C. commentary on the length of my hair, when I returned to worship at Xavier this past Sunday after having been gone since September.

In generating a response, I had to admit to myself that I had built up the renovations as something far more radical in my mind. I was struck at how the space felt the same. Yes, the grime is gone, the details are exquisite, and I have an overwhelming desire to walk around wow-ing as respectfully as possible and touching everything, but the essence of the space, the essential cumulation of character that has made Xavier, Xavier, seemed to remain within the stripped and stained wood, the polished marble, the tooled capitals and power-showered statues.

That observation led me to say in reply—“I think it woke up.” Fall and Winter are great seasons in their own right… there is something satisfying, even comforting, to me about sleeping under thick, floppy blankets that in their heft and weight seal in the goodness and seal out the chill. Spring and Summer, however, also have their merits: light and life and blooming things…and crispy cool sheets after a day’s labor in a City field. Architecturally, it seems that we have woken up into a period of Spring after a long stretch of Fall and Winter.

But, for a moment, back to the essential cumulation of character…ours is a storied space, a space where you can walk and touch the tale that lively quivers beneath the surface…a space and a people who at their best, beckon and say, “Ah…welcome…come!” At its best, it is a place that inspires being home rather than guest.

One of the signs, I believe, of being home somewhere is being welcome in the kitchen. And, in the community house where I live, at least, that means gathering around the wobbly, long tended table that has the dings and scratches and stains–the table that has taken and heard much over its history; that accepts for seating whatever the number who happen to be gathered; that has been oiled and sealed by touch, by being in the living midst of quotidian moments that speak intimately of the heart.

Now and then, the table gets a new cloth put on, the kitchen a good scrub–but we know what is at the heart and we love it—wobbles, flaws, beauty, welcome, history, nourishment of all kinds, and hope. If we didn’t know that, if we didn’t believe that, there’d be no need to work at taking care of it.

Without trotting out the sampler adage about what makes a house a home, it occurs to me that Home is a relational feeling. I feel home because I am in healthy relationship with the people and life and happenings in a given space at a given time. That relationship is sometimes rife with tension, sometimes seemingly remote even when well-seated within me, sometimes the necessary air that fills me. Such is the full, round, nature and limitation of human love–the human love I have for creation, for home, for our triune communitarian God who was, is, and ever shall be without bounds or border or finite end.

Florence Nightingale was an early proponent of fresh air as a part of healthy living. Fresh air is also a part of springtime. As I sit in the newly cleaned pews, gaze at the restored beauty created first for the honor and glory of God alone, I breathe deeply, and sigh my thanks, praying that I may store some of the detailed awe that begs to be known in all its contours as nourishment for the journey that I know is ahead.

It is a journey I make with others in, through, thanks to, and because of, the Love of God that tells us when we are Home.

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