We pulled up to my childhood home in the middle of the night, the Wisconsin green shrouded in darkness. I immediately sensed all the summers of my childhood in the dim stillness as the screen door squeaked shut behind us. Whispering, I led five of my desert-dwelling children upstairs to the bedrooms, each step groaning with a familiar creak in the century-old bungalow.
As we settled in that first night of our week-long visit, I lay awake for awhile, feeling the roots growing back beneath my feet. My past has a place, I thought, my mind winding like vines through the memories each room held.
I remembered my beloved Grandpa putting up drywall so that I could have a small room of my own. I thought about all the nights I’d spent reading in that room, the talks with my sisters, the laughter, and the fervent, sometimes tear-splattered prayers I’d offered in that very place.
It is a sacred space – this room, this house, I realized, in the sense that wherever God has worked, has done something marvelous, has mingled with us in our daily lives, eternity puts its stamp on that place.
It is always a wonder that a God unlimited by time and space binds Himself to it in each moment and corner where we encounter Him. And it is a fact that He creates places for us. Since Eden, He carves out spaces and hovers over our chaos to help us make rooms and homes, chapels and churches that speak to us of something holy here, and point to something holy beyond.
Isn’t this the reason for pilgrimages and crusades – to entwine ourselves in the holy history of a place, to pay our respects to grace in the gardens it grew, to reclaim with fierce loyalty the holy lands and buildings for the Church which sprung from the blood of the martyrs in its soil? Something hardwired in us tells us, these places are consecrated to resurrect our hope. And we feel somehow, entering a Basilica, chapel, catacomb, or cell – even after crossing strange seas and deserts – that we have in a mysterious way come home.
It was the middle of our visit, and we had just come back from our own little pilgrimage to a breathtaking Carmelite shrine, a local treasure, another place God has sealed with Himself. My mother came downstairs, carrying boxes of my old things, things she had lovingly curated for me for years.
I peered into one of the yellowed boxes of photos, awards, art projects and school papers. A twenty-five year old college blue book sat on the very top, my exam answers to a class on Early Christian Life and Thought. Something urged me, open it. And there, on the first page, I read my own answer to the first question:
“Among the promises Christ left to the early community was: ‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms…I am going somewhere to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you too may be’ (Jn 14:2-3). This is the foundation of all hope, the hope of Heaven and the gift of eternal life.”
I am going somewhere to prepare a place for you.
It hit me in a fresh way suddenly that while these places we love, these bricks and boards, will not last forever, like sacraments they point to an eternal reality. Our earthly shrines and homes are types and shadows of something even more real – a heavenly place created for us, just for us – prepared with care, love, intention. An eternal temple, a holy land, a homeland.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
Our hearts long for home because we were created for one.
We were made for a place. In this life, it is one which reflects us, but even more, reflects God, and reminds us of what – and who – we love. One where we cooperate with the Spirit to create a kind of beauty and order. One where we can exhale and find little sabbaths amid the chaos of the world. An anticipation of a place reserved for an eternal Sabbath.
Our homes, however small or simple, are types of heaven, of Our Father’s house. Instinctively we want them to be warm and welcoming. I think of all the times I’ve gone to the store for milk or batteries and found myself lingering over area rugs and throw pillows. There’s a reason I long for loveliness, even though some days it feels like I am losing a battle against clutter and crumbs. I was made from the beginning to dwell in a place of beauty, forever. We all were.
And is it not a miracle that we have a God who pitches his own tent in our wilderness? Who, unwilling to leave us alone until that time when He will come again to take us to Himself, comes now to remain in the Tabernacle (literally, “dwelling place”)? He takes up residence in every Church and what’s more, in every soul. He makes in us His own kind of heaven? He desires to be with us, to the point of dwelling within us. It’s astonishing, really.
My father’s house has many rooms.
Our daughter asked for one thing for her eighth-grade graduation this Spring. “Fix up my room,” she pleaded, pouring over paint samples and Pottery Barn catalogues. We agreed that the small space she shares with her sister could use a face-lift. And so while we were gone visiting the places and people of my childhood, her father, in his great love for her, stayed behind, busy with brushes and rollers and cans of carefully chosen color.
He prepared a place for her.
A week later, he welcomed us home and led her to the door to her bedroom, where she saw what he’d done for her. Her face said it all: it was perfect, and it was hers.
It was a glimmer of an eternal homecoming and a home which will never pass away.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2 Cor 5:1)