By Rev. Lamar Massingill
Editor's Note: Second in a series on Sam Keen’s essay “Exile and Homecoming” started in the Oct.17 issue.
Last time, we examined the “exile’ segment of Sam Keen’s essay. Many of us have “wasted our substance” in the far countries of past and future exile.
This time we examine called “homecoming” or an event of reconciliation. Homecoming is Keen’s way of saying that existing exclusively on memory or anticipation is not a good diet for the spirit. There has to be another way. My mentor, John Claypool, after he read this essay, resonated deeply with it. On one occasion I asked him when he believed his homecoming had become a living event for him. He said it happened when the words of Jesus were interpreted to him by another clergyman during a crisis.
“John,” the man had told him, “Jesus did not say you must become number one in order to get light or out-achieve everyone else in order to earn light or plan some program out of which light will come. Rather, He said you are light. It is the gift of creation. Worth is already in you because of God.”
John said to me that was the moment that changed his entire perspective. He added that it was his own “homecoming” out of the exile of competitiveness and anxiety regarding the future after striving so hard to “make something of myself.” (The illusion of all illusions)
Obviously such a homecoming means coming back to the present, to the here and now and not having the need to scurry around in the exile of the future anymore. It frees us to live in the region that is really home for us all — in the present with the past and the future. This is the only way to live gracefully in all three expressions of time.
It does not isolate the present from either its roots or its destiny. Some writers, in trying to correct the distortions of both nostalgia and revolution, suggest that the secret of life lies in projecting goals out into the future (Sartre) or standing on what one has accomplished in the past (Hegel).
Either one of these ways of doing life will not work because we are not cultivating the soil out of which our present grows; therefore, we aren’t present in the “present.” We are not living in the right tense.
This is especially true with people in the clergy, with obvious exceptions, because we try to plan where we are going next, and how we can get there, so much so that we are not really living our own experience. Consequently, two things happen:
If we lived our own experience in the present, my guess is there would be longer tenures and less anxiety about position, prestige, money and titles.
Homecoming is an event much like the prodigal son’s experience when he “came to himself” and realized that being the son that he was in the home where he had been was all right indeed – even good.
Homecoming, then, is a matter of a changed perspective more than a change of location or even nature. It is realizing in the depths of your being that “by the grace of God, I am what I am, where I am,” and accepting this, embracing this and learning to love this. It means shifting your center to awareness of the here and now and away from memory or anticipation.
A published author, Massingill is minister at the United Methodist churches of Richton and Sand Hill, and religion editor at “The Magnolia Gazette.” His latest book is titled “Soul Places.”