Exile and Belonging (a love note from your online Abbess)

Corcomroe Abbey

Dearest monks and artists,

This coming Tuesday represents two significant relationships in my life.  September 3rd is my mother’s birthday, she would have been 71 and it is also my 19th wedding anniversary with my beloved, and your online Prior, John.

My mother’s death 10 years ago was unexpected and wrenching.  I was blessed to be by her side at the moment of her last breath. Truly it was one of the holiest moments of my life and one of the most terrible, as this woman I loved so dearly was torn from me too soon.  Her death plunged me into a depression for the next couple of years, although it took time to name it as such.  I felt unwell so much of the time, I felt an aloneness and orphaned. I have come to know this time as a season of exile in my life, of feeling far away from “home.”

John and I met when we were both 22 and at 24 we married. There are no words adequate to express my love for him and the gifts of our friendship in my life. I daily feel gratitude for all the things we have traversed together: deaths of three parents, serious illness, job loss, moving multiple times, and of course, our decision together to sell everything and travel across the sea to discover what lay awaiting us on the other shore. In my marriage is the place where I experience a profound sense of belonging. I know I am loved and cherished. I am at home.

I believe that we each have fundamental experiences of exile and belonging.  We have each had losses that  shattered us, or experiences which thrust us into a kind of deep aloneness we never knew existed.

And we have each had moments of profound kindness, tasted the sweetness of belonging, experienced a love that told us on the deepest level that we belong here, if only for a fleeting glimpse.

So much of my work is a tribute to my mother: her courage in all kinds of life challenges, the beautiful woman and powerful she matured into, her commitment to justice, and her love of art.

So much of my work is a tribute to my marriage, without which I am not sure I would have had the courage to do so many of the things I have risked. John’s support while working through our struggles and feeling loved in the most unconditional way.

This path of becoming a monk in the world holds this tension of exile and belonging.  The ancient desert monks taught us to not only welcome being the stranger, but to seek it out.  They traveled to the harsh and barren landscape to feel their vulnerability in the keenest possible way.

They knew that seeking out the experience of exile demands that the heart becomes soft and tender and is  precisely the place where God can enter in, when we let go of how we want God to work in our lives and welcome in God as presence beyond our imagining.

We live in a culture of competency, achievement, and goals.  Even our spiritual language can have this sheen of achieving proficiency and the seduction of believing that if we only find the right practice and do it in the right way at the right intervals and for the right length of time, we will become immune to the need for further transformation.  We will have arrived in the place of strength and certainty and deep trust.

But this is always a journey. We never arrive.

In the midst of our belonging, there are always reminders of exile. And in the exile, glimpses of home.

I know I will have my heart broken again in this life because I open myself to love. I know I will continue to taste the delight of feeling at home and truly belonging, whether in marriage, or friendship, or when gathering with you my beloved monks online and in person.

Perhaps that is why the archetype of pilgrim calls so much to my heart, this honoring of always being on the way, and the intentionality of moving out into strange landscapes and cultures as a way of meeting my own vulnerability again and again.  Of welcoming in my own great losses as the places where I can be most crafted into the person I am to become.

And we also need these experiences of belonging, we thirst and hunger for them.  To always be in exile and strangeness is to forget what home feels like. We need to remember and cherish these moments when we feel loved, when trust arises like a fountain. Then we can offer that experience to another and contribute to radical hospitality in the world.

Where are your own great places of exile and belonging?

It seems especially poignant and serendipitous that as I have been pondering the theme of exile and belonging this past week that John finally received his letter of approval from the Irish immigration office and now has his residency card which is valid for the next five years. There is a sense of deepening into Ireland as home.

There is so much goodness at the Abbey right now, the fruit of summer’s spaciousness and time for dreaming opened up many inspirations. The core word seems to be community and how best to nourish this gathering of dancing monks so we might witness to alternative ways of being in our own corners of the world.

With great and growing love,

Christine

*Photo: Corcomroe Abbey in the Burren, Ireland

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