I recall my first summer trip back home after my first year of college. I needed those few weeks at my parents' kitchen table, the long walks with high school friends, and the pickup game with my neighbors. After a year of many adjustments brought about by the college experience of being away from home, it brought me deep joy to be back at my home church and to worship with those who helped raise me during my teenage years. But such joy was accompanied by a creeping sense of unease brought about by change. I was slightly nervous as the following realization took root in my spirit. There comes a time when home is no longer a place one can fully return to unchanged after a long absence.
If I am really honest with you, I should share that my first homecoming from college was bittersweet. Home as I knew it was more of a memory than a reality, a year had almost passed in the lives of those of my inner circle. Jokes were shared for which I missed the beat of the punchline. Many conversations were halted because I needed to be filled in with details before we could go on, relationships have shifted and I have missed important dynamics. I was out of sync with the rhythms and melodies of home. I no longer occupied the place I did every Sunday during worship at the musicians' box, someone else was there. Worshipping continued. At one time, I had to ask for directions driving back home because a trusted road had been re-routed during my time away, and one more thing, my room, was no longer my room in the same way. Furniture has been arranged, artifacts have been put in boxes and stored in other places of the home. At night alone in “my room,” I could not shake the feeling that I was a stranger in the place I called home. Things were the same but also different in equal measure. I needed to find my way around and reorient at home.
Every other homecoming after that only deepened that sense of estrangement and deepened my longing for a home. There was always a welcome at home for me; I needed not to ask permission, but I needed to find my way and settle. Through these intervening years, I was welcomed into other homes. There were people willing to make space at their table for me. In some of these places, I was welcomed only for an evening, so I would not be alone during a holiday. Other places were home for a season. and there are a few that have become a home away from home. These were truly places of refuge, where I and my family could count on the hospitality of others. Where I could get to meet myself again and anew. These were homes that provided a refuge when life was challenging, when I felt at a loss, or needed to vent, rant, rage, and at times, just be. These were places that spoke to me words of radical welcome, just as I was. Over the years, I came to name these as sacred spaces that extended the boundaries of their circle of life for me and mine, so that we could make ourselves at home. And in being so welcomed, our familial bonds have expanded beyond what I could have hoped for, we found refuge.
Finding a place of refuge is not a passive experience. One arrives at such places through seeking, nurturing, and relationships with self, others, and the world, through hospitality and welcome. Many of us find refuge in religious traditions and practices. Finding a place of refuge, it’s a continuous journey of embracing the core values of the faith while also wrestling with its challenges; of leaving for a season, to return again and find things familiar yet unfamiliar in equal measure. Just as the physical home may evolve and change, the spiritual home too may undergo transformations, both in its embodiment and our relationship with it.
As one grapples with the shifting sands of one’s perception of home, one must navigate the delicate balance of memory, nostalgia, and present reality. A faith home offers solace to those experiencing such internal tumult by presenting an open space for exploration, acceptance, and growth. There's a poignant beauty in recognizing that while certain elements of a spiritual home might feel unfamiliar, or even challenging, it still can provide a haven for when we seek a place to be restored.
Finding refuge within our faith practice also touches upon the importance of the 'why' in our spiritual journey. It's not enough to know what we do and how we do it; understanding why we commit ourselves to a particular path is crucial. This 'why' serves as the anchor, grounding us in moments of doubt, and propelling us forward in moments of conviction. Such a 'why' re-routes us when we fear we have lost our way and brings us back into a community that, despite its flaws and imperfections, strives for love, understanding, and acceptance.
Finding a place of refuge is a journey, both personal and collective. It's a process of continuously seeking, understanding, and striving to embody a living faith's principles. It’s about recognizing and honoring the sanctity of every individual’s spiritual journey, celebrating the shared aspirations, and collectively working towards a community where everyone feels at home. It’s about creating and nurturing spaces that offer both solace and challenge, pushing us to grow and evolve. It's about building a spiritual home that truly reflects and embraces the diverse and dynamic tapestry of its followers.
Power of Life, we are travelers, navigating the evolving geography of our lives and faith, finding ourselves often moving between the familiar and the unfamiliar. As we venture forth and return, may we always find a spiritual home that welcomes us, even when it feels different from the memories we hold dear and our longings for the familiar.
May our hearts turn in gratitude towards those who have opened their homes and hearts to us, offering sanctuary during our times of solitude, and expanding our sense of community. Just as we have been welcomed, may we extend our hospitality to others, recognizing a fellow traveler.
In moments when doubt appears to be our only companion, may our ‘why’ serve as a beacon, grounding us in love, understanding, and curiosity for the homes yet to visit. Even when our paths diverge or shift, may we find strength in our shared commitment to a world of compassion, justice, and interconnectedness.
As we grapple with the balance of memory, nostalgia, and present reality, help us to cherish the beauty of now and the promise of tomorrow. Encourage us to build a spiritual home where all feel seen, heard, and valued.
Amen and may it be so.
Elías Ortega, President