Yet hints come to me from the realm unknown;
Airs drift across the twilight border land,
Odoured with life; and as from some far strand
Sea-murmured, whispers to my heart are blown
That fill me with a joy I cannot speak
– George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul.
It has been with me ever since my first memories. It was behind the feeling of mystery and wonder which came over me in childhood, as I stared wide-eyed at the book which had pictures of beautiful places, animals, and adventures. It was in the subtle but deep and inexplicable ache as I watched the hawk fly in the bleached summer sky above. It brought me to a state of reverent quietness as I listened to the owls call to each other as the darkness descended upon the hushed street of my childhood home. It made me hold my breath with awe as I watched the bee-eaters flying high in the sky, or the praying mantis swaying back and forth under the porch light, or the elusive marten, hated by chicken-owners and loved only by me, which occasionally slipped from the darkness of a neighbour`s roof and quickly disappeared back into it, leaving me spellbound, aching and longing for some unnamed, ancient mystery.
I want to tell you a story.
It was a Sunday night. It was dark outside, and all was quiet. As I sat in the darkness of the balcony, I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and turned on the music player. The first session of a series of lectures began. Ready to relax and absorb more knowledge, I sat back, looking toward the darkness of the garden. Our pet rabbit peeped at me from its ‘house’, the boundaries of which reached up to about a third from the balcony. No, I had not brought any rabbit food. Only soul-food. For myself.
Before I continue, I must confess to you that the practice of stillness is one of the most difficult exercises for me. Indeed, when I force myself to leave behind everything else which prevents me from being still, things like books, music, or the talks which I always keep handy, rarely if ever leave my side. It is really a small wonder that my mind rarely, if ever feels fully at peace. I have lived so long in the world of constant activity, that nothing else feels normal, much less comfortable.
An hour went by. As I listened in silence, I caught myself glancing up toward the sky more and more often. The moon, veiled by the ragged cloak of clouds, illuminated everything around me with a pale, ghostly light. Ducks flew somewhere up there, quacking as they followed each other in the dark sky. A fox rustled through the bushes in the dark corner of the green space before me. There was a gentle breeze. And in the pleasantness of the moment, something started to happen. Although my body was already enjoying its rest, my mind was still somewhat stubbornly clinging to its desire for information and busyness. And so for a long time, the lecture I listened to continued to pour into it through my ears. But, from a place far beyond the reach of my ever-hungry, ever-running mind, there came a different message.
You do not need that noise…
Suddenly aware of my self-sabotaging rebellion, I reached out and switched the device off. The emptiness which I had been avoiding and running from ever since my childhood, now seemed interesting, even desirable. And thoughts, new thoughts flew into my suddenly freed mind. What is fear, or craving, or compulsion, but simply a mere lie which once exposed, can only retreat as truth and freedom advances. Let me see what will really happen when I finally let go…
Smells of late summer in the breeze. Sounds of households slowing down and getting ready for the night. Beyond them, the faint sounds of the sea. Bright, round moon, generously smiling through the thinning fabric of fast-moving clouds. Memories, rising up to life in places long forgotten. Timeless shadows of the lush greenness which once surrounded me and surrounds me still. Peace and pleasure. And..a sigh. A sigh of a heart that has long been toiling, labouring without reward under a cruel taskmaster…me. Repentance…and forgiveness. And then, as my mind finally let its guard down and lay still, as my body`s every muscle softened and my eyes feasted upon the beauty of the majestic sky, I began to hear. I am not certain whether my ears had become more attuned to the world around me, or the noises were somewhat louder. Perhaps both things had happened at once. I heard soft smacking sounds of an animal eating. When I slowly looked down, I saw a hedgehog, eating something on the grass below. Judging by the sounds, the meal was a delicious one. I had never before seen a hedgehog in our area, let alone a glutton such as this one, and my stirred heart leapt with joy and amazement. The sounds of the feasting hedgehog drifted to me at the same time as I began to hear the other sounds – the familiar crunching which came from the dark, furry shape of our beloved rabbit that stood in front of its little bungalow, chewing on the food left there for it. Two animals, a domestic one and a wild one, lived, breathed, and ate their food very close to me, totally oblivious to me and each other. Another sigh left my chest as I sat and listened in silence, in the company of the royal, beaming moon. Foxes moved in the darkness of the bushes. The eerie moonlight set everything in sight ablaze with a white, eternal flame. In that moment my heart, temporarily freed from the cruelty of my hard-working mind, was touched and awakened by some old, undying love. This was the call which I had often heard all those years ago when I was only a little child. This was the haunting which had dogged my heels as I strove to find the meaning of life in my youth, when even in my search, I always remained haunted by an unknown sweetness which called to me but never made itself known. The call was there even later, when I tried to numb the pain of loss, rejection, and despair with pleasures in a vain search for intimacy, fueled by alcohol, drugs and a desperate desire to escape the sadness which filled my soul. It was this call which I had finally responded to as I bent my will and risked everything, opening my heart to a wild, new and unknown Life on that hot and dusty day in Zambia.
You see…nothing is lost…
No, nothing is lost if we, at some point of our journey, choose to lose what we see as ourselves for the sake of the yet unknown truth. As I sat in awe, present to my heart, present to the wonders of nature around me, and to the Author of it all, I was once again soaked in the eternity which has been calling to me ever since I came into the world.
Home was calling to me again.