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by Sarina Gruver Moore
Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is away today. We welcome guest blogger Sarina Gruver Moore. Sarina teaches English at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Thank you, Sarina!
Two summers ago—when I thought my middle-aged self permanently settled into the fertile ground of West Michigan—I suddenly felt the tectonic plates of my life shift. Without knowing what was ahead, I knew things were changing.
A month after I wrote about that sense of impending change here on this blog the metaphoric earthquake hit.
My husband told me he was having both a crisis of career and a crisis of faith. He felt he needed to leave not only his job, but also perhaps his profession. And he wasn’t sure what, if anything, he believed anymore regarding faith.
Much of that story is his alone to tell, and I’m happy to say that there is ultimately so much goodness and spiritual awakening in that telling. Like a seed, he had to die to an old life in order to really live. Thomas Merton understood this process: “It is a death for the sake of life, which leaves behind all that we can know or treasure as life, as thought, as experience, as joy, as being.”
Still. All of that new life was waiting for us quite a few months into the future. In the midst of the crisis period I was just barely functioning in the pain and confusion, and in the immediate aftershocks of those unexpected revelations I desperately wanted to find stable ground on which to stand.
The next six months was a sometimes terrifying, sometimes thrilling re-plotting, re-piecing, and re-plowing of our lives: I focused on my career and found a terrific new job; we sold our urban and historic house; said sad good-byes to the best neighbors, friends, and church we could ever want; moved to a state farther away from our extended families; bought a fixer-upper in a rural village surrounded by Amish farms; and resettled our three children in new schools.
Yeah, our heads were spinning, too.
But after that year of upheaval I thought we had landed on safe ground again. Amish country instead of Dutch country? Horse-drawn buggies and pretty quilts instead of wooden klompen and Tulip Time? No problem—I can work with that. Super charming.
But there is no “safe ground” of our own creation, is there? No safe shelter in which to rebuild our egos. Instead, the refuge God offers is a voice blazing out of the darkness, a fire on the mountain, a shattering of the night—aftershocks and tremors that wake us up, over and over again.
It turns out that there is always more of ourselves to which we must die. And so help me, God, it’s always painful—this dying, this kenosis.
Two months ago I finished my first year at that new, wonderful job. But no matter how welcoming and lovely everyone is (and they are), the first year in a new academic environment is pretty brutal.
It was an exhausting year of being a beginner again. A year of failures, large and small. I misjudged the college culture, more than once—okay, a lot. I failed to meet some students in their intellectual and emotional needs. I felt defensive when areas of improvement were (rightly) pointed out to me. I felt—for the first time—the weight of responsibility in being the sole provider for our family.
I recognize that these “failures” sound perfectly normal—and they are. Still, it was a second year of feeling raw and exposed, disoriented and shaky.
So when I was offered the opportunity to come back to Grand Rapids this summer and teach a class, I jumped. It would be a spiritual and intellectual homecoming, of sorts. Something comfortable and comforting in a place I both know and am known.
You know the old Dutch Reformed joke of “next year in GR-usalem,” right? Precisely.
So here I am now: driving westward, toward the home-and-not-home of Michigan, where friends and beaches and good beer await; driving westward, away from the home-and-not-home of Pennsylvania, where husband and sons, garden and house projects remain.
A friend emails and asks if I am nostalgic returning to Grand Rapids. I read the email at a rest stop, then spend the remainder of the 6-hour drive thinking about that question.
And I suddenly realize that I’m not at all sure what I feel. There are moments of grief as I remember our old life, to be sure. I have felt somewhat left behind as this city and these people have continued to change, without us here to celebrate those changes. But I also know—cognitively at least—that the old life is gone, forever. Nothing ever returns to what it once was, said some dead Greek guy.
But here is my big surprise: I have changed in the past year. For one thing, I’m not sure that I’m looking for the ground of home as a place anymore. For a military kid who spent her childhood moving from state to state, letting go of that desire to stabilize myself in a particular landscape both frees and frightens me.
If I’m homeward bound now it is in this respect alone: no matter where I journey, the heart is always and only at home in Love. The shining gratefulness and everyday joy at the continued gift of this life, no matter where we live it, can accompany us anywhere.
So I drive into the westering sun, listening on endless repeat to perhaps the most nostalgic song ever, writing this piece in my head, and praying:
Bring us all into the Love that is our Home, O God—no matter from which and to which direction we travel: west, east, north, south. Be with us in the ebb and the flow, the unending flux, the ceaseless change of becoming. And when we get sleepy, wake us up.
With earthquakes, if necessary.