When I was 15 years old I left home. No, not permanently - but for three weeks. I decided to travel to Europe with a group called People to People Student Ambassadors. At this point in my life I was a pretty average teenager. I did what my parents asked of me, went to church each Sunday, ate my vegetables... I was also slightly naive and somewhat self centered. It's not that I was grossly selfish or vindictive, but the concept of selflessness hadn't really occurred to me yet. I was just a fun-loving, pleasure seeking, just-out-of-freshman-year-of-high-school teenage girl.
Imagine my surprise when God spoke to me on that trip.
We had been in Rome for several days, sight-seeing and infusing our young minds with culture. Vatican City was next on the schedule, but I was so sleep deprived and sore from walking around the city that I found it hard to concentrate on the educational opportunities. Finally our tour guide released us to go and explore St. Peter's Basilica. I was particularly interested in Vatican City and the Basilica because I was Catholic, but I wasn't what you would call a phenomenal participant in my faith. The church was so grand and beautiful I couldn't help but wander through it, gazing in awe at the different statues and alters. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I was sure that it was all very important.
Eventually a group of us came to a curious spot deep within the church. A tall, red velvet curtain hung from the ceiling, enclosing some sort of restricted area. Naturally, I wanted to see more. A sign written in several languages warned us to be quiet and respectful - this was a place of prayer. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't been to mass in a week or two because of the European tour. I decided to take a moment to pray, being Catholic and all, and to make up for missing mass. A few other Catholic members of the group joined me as we stepped between the curtains into a tiny chapel.
Immediately the scent of incense enveloped me. The fragrance brought with it a sense of familiarity and comfort. As I knelt down to pray all the stress, tiredness, and bodily soreness disappeared. I was filled with a deep sense of peace. How strange, I thought, but just shrugged it off as I quieted myself in prayer. Then I heard it, not with my ears, but within my soul:
You are home, the voice told me.
Uh, no, actually I'm in Rome, like several thousand miles away from home, I instinctively replied.
You are home, the voice reiterated.
When I walked out of the velvet enclosed chapel I discovered that each person who stepped inside to pray had a similar experience. We all felt a lightening of our burdens, a physical change in our bodies, a calming sense of peace. I finally started to put all the pieces together. Some very special just happened to me - I heard the voice of God.
I wish I could say that my life changed at that moment. It actually took a bit more time than an instant. The thing is, however, I could never forget those words, You are home. What did they mean?
Over the years I've discovered that home isn't always a physical place, like I originally understood it to be. Home is the place where you belong. It makes sense to me that "going home" is really entering into a deeper, more faithful relationship with God. During my teenage years I always felt alienated, like I didn't belong anywhere. I longed for the feeling of acceptance, comfort, and home. It just took me awhile to realize that I will only feel accepted, comforted, and at home when I am fulfilled by God. I've always had a home in the Church, within the community of those who love and serve God, I just didn't always know it.
*This post was written for the April Scribbit Write-Away Contest. The topic this month: Going Home.