Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Home, and I Didn't Even Know It

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.


Confessions of a Steubie Wife said...

this hit close to home for me because when i was on my way back home to the Church (mid-late teens), i was actually really involved in protestant church activities and youth groups...i remember one mission trip to hawaii with the presbyterian church...we went through many churches on "church row" just to check them out and when we entered the Catholic church there was something very different about it. at the time i didn't have a real deep understanding of the Eucharist (obviously! i was thinking of converting to protestantism after all and gave my heart to Jesus many times in their prayer meetings!) but that's what was different--Jesus was literally present! I don't know the time frame, but sometime after, I went into the local Catholic church at home in California and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and THAT was THAT. I was HOME too.

ashleyrae said...

One thing I didn't mention in the post is what I found out about five years later, when I returned to Rome. The little chapel I prayed in is the chapel for Perpetual Adoration... I have no memory of seeing the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, and I don't think I would have known what it was if I noticed it anyway!

Scribbit said...

I love your angle on this. It's spiritual and religiously introspective without being preachy or overbearing. Nicely done!

Daisy said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful and personal experience.