I was prompted to reflect on my brief time as a priest. Yes, I always had a sense that I did not quite fit the group. I had been through the Catholic school system and the state school system whereas just about all of them had been through the catholic school system. There was a culture there that was strange territory for me. I was something of an outsider. The question, “Do you feel lonely in the church?” therefore shook loose a realization: “I do not fit!” Following close on the heels of that first realization was a second: “I do not fit but I do belong!” That was a moment of relief and release. Yet, I do not fit, but I do belong soon became the mantra of peace to my soul.
Further reflection has led me to realize that so many of us spend too much of my talent and energy trying to fit. Human groupings are essential to our living healthy lives but they can exact a terrible price. In fact, the actual price exacted can completely negate any value the group might potentially have.
We are all misfits who belong in the heart of God. The sooner we realize it the better. We live as exiles. In the depths of our beings is a longing for “home,” a longing that is bound to be frustrated if we try to find “home” here, in this or that group, this or that place. Restlessness is our lot. We are pilgrims. Life is a journey. We must learn to travel and wait. This is the wonder and beauty of the human situation, the centrepiece of a purposeful and hope-filled life. The experience of this restlessness, however, can just as easily be the cause for despair and nihilism if we do not recognise it for what it is.
St Augustine names it as he reflects on his own experience:
“And being admonished by all this to return to myself, I entered into my inmost part, with you as leader, and I was able to do so because you were my helper. I entered within and saw, with my soul’s eye (such as it was), an unchangeable light. It was shining above the eye of my soul and above my mind, not that ordinary light visible to all flesh nor something of the same kind, only greater as though it might be our ordinary light shining more brightly and with its greatness filling all things. Your light was not that kind but another kind, utterly different from all these. Nor was it above my mind as oil is above the water it floats on, nor as the sky is above earth; it was higher than my soul because it made me, and I was below because I was made by it. Whoever knows Truth knows that Light, and whoever knows it, knows eternity. Charity knows it. O eternal Truth and true Love and beloved Eternity! You are my God, to you I sigh day and night. And when I first knew you, you lifted me up so that I might see that there was something to see but that I was not yet the man to see it. And you beat back the weakness of my gaze, shining on me too strongly, and I trembled with love and dread.” (St Augustine, Confessions, 7:10. Translation by Mary T Clark, The Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1984, 70-71.)
Augustine then goes on to use a metaphor, first used by Plato and borrowed by a number of the Fathers, to describe the situation in which we actually find ourselves:
“And I knew myself to be far from you in the region of unlikeness …..”
Blessed are those who come to know and appreciate that they live in “the region of unlikeness.” They will be less inclined to waste their best energies seeking this and that. They will know that the essence of living is found in the gift and presence of love, even when it appears silent! And they are prepared to wait to hear its still small voice…