By Fr Donald Chambers
“My heart was burning for home. For a moment I felt like crying out, but . . . my mother’s voice came back to me. It was as if she was here and talking, Stay and take an education, boy. . . That’s the main thing” (The Year in San Fernando, Michael Anthony).
Similar to Michael Anthony, prior to Christmas my heart pulsated and burned to return to my homeland after 18 months of separation due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic disconnected me from face-to-face interaction with friends and family and disrupted my regular visits to Jamaica.
However, my long-awaited homecoming encountered further disconnection and disruption. My father’s unexpected illness consumed my time and energy. The rising positive Covid-19 cases further imprisoned me, thus preventing me from meaningful face-to-face interaction with friends for fear of contracting the virus, and subsequently the risk of passing it on to my parents.
In this atmosphere of disconnection and disruption, I struggled with finding and celebrating the birth of Christ. While the Magi continued their journey in search of the Christ Child on the feast of Epiphany, I remained in Jerusalem preoccupied with and consumed by my personal dilemma. I was preoccupied with the tension of connection and disconnection.
While appreciating and valuing the experience of reconnections especially with my parents, there was an existential sense of disconnection from friends. I felt as though I was still physically existing in Trinidad and Tobago.
There was also the tension between executing wise actions as opposed to foolish actions. Should I ignore the expanding community spread of the virus or simply heed the warning and remain isolated?
There was also tension between caring for family versus caring for others. I felt deeply torn…without clear answers to mend and comfort my aching heart.
In this dilemma, God promises, “I will be with you until the end of time.” However, if we focus on seeking answers, we end up drowning in frustration, complaining, and grumbling, as with the prophet Jeremiah who curses God saying, “God, you have used me, you have given me a life I didn’t want, now I’m so into it there’s nothing else I can do, but I still hate it” (Jer 20:7–18).
If we seek the meaning of the dilemma, then we will listen and discern the Holy Spirit nagging us to embark on an interior journey.
Like cave explorers, we enter the dilemma, the dark and unknown cave of our interior self to discover a Gift – God’s Presence. In the words of American writer Joseph Campbell, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”.
It was the cave or journey of the unknown to which the Magi entered and discovered the greatest treasure – the Christ Child.
In my own dilemma, I learnt that “If we wish to enter more deeply into this mystery of redemptive suffering, which also means somehow entering more deeply into the heart of God, we have to ask the Lord to allow us to feel . . .what it means to be empty, abandoned, uncared for” (Richard Rohr).
As I entered the tensions of my own dark cave, I carried with me the torch of awareness to navigate the unknown journey. I became aware of how I was feeling…my feelings of anxiety, frustration, and sadness, triggered by a burning desire to connect, yet unable to connect fully.
I gradually became aware of the temptation to inoculate myself from the emotional pain resulting from the tensions. My awareness torch helped me to be aware of my thought pattern. How was I plotting to escape the moment – to withdraw?
There was also the awareness of what was happening around me regarding my relationship with others. I realised that I was living an impactful life because of the critical roles I was playing in the lives of friends and families.
If I develop a reliance on these roles, I needed to be aware of what happened when I was unable to carry out those functions. Did I feel worthless, unneeded, and useless? Furthermore, there was also awareness of the temptation that “I am indispensable.”
In addition to the torchlight of awareness, there is need to engage in a holistic healthcare plan to sustain myself on this unknown and mysterious interior journey. Therefore rest, sleep, exercise, intimate socialisation, meditation, prayerful moments, and spiritual or psychological direction are all essential.
Based on this home-coming experience, I realised that the advice of Michael Anthony’s Mom to “stay and take in an education” is the voice of wisdom, instructing us to remain faithful to the interior journey, that is the journey to, in and through the cave within which lies a Treasure.
Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.