A few moments of enjoying life (and language) the way we wish we could.
I believe there is a room at center of my being. The room is large and quiet. Windows make its walls, and through them I gaze upon skies and stars only visible to my inner eye. When my soul dwells there, I am at peace, for Love dwells there too and calls me always to return. To abide in that place is to abide in the Love that fills and forms it and makes it His own.
When I live from that room, I look out upon the world with calm eyes that do not dart in frenzy or fear. I live with the quiet of trust as a stay to my mind, and the stillness of Love as peace in my heart. Because I am at home within myself, I am also at home in my own life. I can dwell in the present moment without distraction, able to give myself fully to the beauty that marks it and the people who fill it. Sometimes, I can even be a home to those who are lost in soul themselves.
Love is never absent from that room, but to my grief, I am. The voice of distraction shouts my name, and I rush out without thinking. Hurry pull me out of the presence of Love with tight, nervous hands. Fear of this deadline or that future screams my name and I run out the door of Love in panic. The cares of this swift, strange life strand me in a foreign land so that even if my body is home, my soul feels in exile. I have a long way to walk before I am at home.
When that happens, I find myself as I did this morning, sitting in my chair, staring out my window, wondering how to begin the journey home. My mind is so used to running ahead of me that I can barely tether it to the present moment. A thousand voices jostle in my mind. I try to pray, I try to breathe, I try to force my thoughts to focus, my soul to still, but all I feel is weariness.
I glance out the window. The wind shimmers in the aspens, their crisp green leaves edged in the first gold I glance at my windowsill, where a candle dances a jig in a green glass jar. My breath eases, my mind slows. And I remember abruptly; I know how to walk my soul home. I know what I must do to begin the journey back to that room at core of myself. I rise. No longer will I strive for deep thoughts or catch at quiet as if it were a bird flitting ever beyond my grasp.
Instead, I’ll cook. Yes, first, I always cook. That means a jaunt to the grocery store to fill the cabinets that are bare with my mother gone and me just returned the night before. I grab colorful things; tight-skinned grapes with skins of opal green, the last of the summer tomatoes in their voluptuous crimson, golden, buttery cheese, a French loaf of pale, grainy bread, and a head of my favorite red leaf lettuce. I tote it all home and turn it into a lunch plate. And every bite is a step back toward home as the color and taste of God’s bounty bind me to the present by the cord of delight and set my feet upon firm ground.
I eat it outside. For that is another way of walking. I lay a blue blanket in the grass and devour my picnic under the shadow dapple of wind-tossed leaves and swaying pines. The cool, dark grass flattens sweetly beneath me. The wind prickles on my skin, strums the aspen branches, and flings a magpie through the sapphire of the sky. And I walk a few steps closer to calm as God’s wind weaves me back into the pattern of day and night, earth and sky.
Flowers are next. Tulips too. My favorite. On sale today (oh so serendipitously). I cradle them in their brown paper wrapper, trim the stems, and fill a vase with water. Even as I set them in the jug, they are already listing toward the light that reaches toward them through the window. I turn my face to the light as well, feel the tap of its gentle fingers explore, and bless, my face. I breathe more deeply than I have all day. And that breath sets me even closer to the room for which my soul longs, a holy wind at my back as I walk.
Then come books. I’m me, so books will always be included in any journey involving my soul. I have a ridiculous stack today, for I like to pile them about me like friends when I feel unsure of my inner state. I’ve raided the library today, taken a few old favorites off the shelf, added a friend’s recent loanings and set them all next to my nest on the couch. I skim then, scan them, savor a picture, or stop at a phrase. Their words walk beside me like friends on my road, arms sturdy in mine, helping me a few feet forward. And every word is a step toward that room, every sentence a swifter step homeward.
Then comes teatime. Of course. Sticky toffee pudding, just a bit, in a teacup. With the British custard I have finally mastered. Ah, God knew what he was about when he made good food. The taste of it is a song in my mouth and its tune is that of grace. In the music of that moment, I crest the final hill.
The light is gentling now, bowing its head and settling into the earth as the day slips to its close. I sit in my chair, at ease. My tulips twine their slow dance toward the window. My mind is calm, the clamor gone. I am thoroughly in the present. I look upon my room with quiet eyes. My breath is slow. The wind sings in the pine out my window, and it seems to sing in my soul as well, prodding me on. I close my eyes.
My feet touch the threshold of my inner room. I push the door open. The height and silence of that great room pull me forward. For an instant, I bow my head, ashamed at my absence. Then Love pulls me to himself. And I am at home again.
Sarah Clarkson is an author, blogger, and student of theology at the University of Oxford. She loves books, beauty, and imagination and wants everyone else to understand why they should too. She is the author of Read for the Heart (a guide to children’s literature) and Caught Up in a Story, an exploration of the way that narrative and imagination form a child’s sense of self. She wrote The Lifegiving Home with her mother, Sally Clarkson, and blogs about home, books, Oxford, and beauty at thoroughlyalive.com. When not chasing doctrinal mysteries down in the Bodleian, walking the meadows, or drinking another good cup of coffee, Sarah can be found at home with a good novel in the red-doored English house she shares with her husband, Thomas.