One summer in my early thirties, watching my boys play in open fields, I sat in the shade conversing with my favorite uncle. Visiting his farm was always a pleasure. But in this particular conversation–and our conversations always went deep–I’d just said to him, “There are no pleasures.” He smiled approvingly. It was something I’d been learning over time; something he’d apparently known for years. That what we think are pleasures aren’t. A good meal, a fun event, a new pair of shoes, a special trip, etc. They are temporary. They are not spiritual gains. And the only real lasting good is knowing Spirit, God. Gaining a better understanding of God as ever-present Love and Truth gives a spiritual uplift to one’s whole being–more than pleasure–a governing fact.
At that point in my life I’d found many human things to be disappointing. To be clear, my sons were a joy! Painting was rewarding! Making a beautiful home was a delight! But as wonderful as such things can be, there is a fleeting, transitory nature to them. The only thing I know that never fails is finding God, to know He/She is with us, ever-present, no matter what happens humanly. When we expect and find God’s presence in our day-to-day it raises our consciousness beyond the ordinary and material. Then there is something divinely universal about living.
I am reminded of a time when living in the South I yearned for a home in the North where I could raise sons, Newfoundlands, and vegetables. I’d driven to the country to pick up my son from an overnight with a friend and finding myself too early to fetch him, I was impelled to drive down a wooded dead-end road. On the right was a “for sale” sign. I turned off the engine, feeling compelled to get out of the car and walk to the edge of the property. The land called me in. A blue bird flew overhead, boughs rustled in the breeze as I crunched Burnt Sienna leaves walking up the hill between towering trees. Umbers, ochres, dense greens engulfed me. Sounds of things unseen welcomed me. I was not alone. There was something spiritual about this place. What was this presence? At the back of the property, I found a natural spring and pond with lily pads, croaking frogs, and dragonflies. This stirring place reminded me of my years along Lake Michigan, of an autumn bus ride in Tuscany where trees talked with texture and color, of summer days on Cape Cod. It felt like North Country. And I was in the presence of God.
The next day I showed the property to my husband and children. They loved it. What would it take to buy it? It would mean a commitment to the South and I’d been hoping for a return North. But this land had called my name. Its spirit held me. We phoned the listing agent. He came to our home; we made an offer. Oddly, another offer had just come in for the same 5-acre property and he was bound to present both offers to the sellers.
With the weight of what we were attempting, I walked alone into the next room, picked up my Bible, and asked God “Is this what You would have me do, God? Why did I come to this land in the first place?” I knew this purchase would have to be more than human will. I prayed with my whole heart, reaching out to the Principle that governs the universe: “Show me, God, why I came to this place. Not my will, Yours.” The Bible fell open and my eyes landed on these words: “Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat of the fruit of them” (Jeremiah 29:5). How stunning! I’d never read these words before. With tears, I walked to the bookshelves to research this passage, reading that scholars consider it to be “one of the most significant documents in the Old testament” rising “to the highest pitch of religious consciousness to be found in the religious history of mankind up to this time.” It speaks to the children of Israel longing for a return to their homeland, but Jeremiah explains they must not hope for a return home soon, rather he asks them to lead full normal lives where they find themselves–in captivity in Babylonia. He even admonishes them to seek the welfare of the city in which they may be living and pray to the Lord on its behalf–a revolutionary viewpoint–to pray on behalf of their enemy. “Build…plant…pray…” is the essence of his message: “Jeremiah here shows the Jews that their religion does not depend on residence in the land of Palestine”, but rather “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord. Herein is contained the paradox of all religion, learned by Jeremiah out of the toils and sufferings of his own religious quest…Homecoming is the return into the proximity of the Source–not a return to Jerusalem.” quotations from The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, pages 1016-1018.
Like one of Jeremiah’s people, captive in a foreign land, I had longed to return North to my homeland. I’d been complaining about the South when I ought to have been loving it, working for its well-being. How clear the message! I could not possibly miss the point! I understood instantly that I must build, plant, pray right where I find myself. I saw that home is not a location–North, South, East, West–but a deep dwelling in Spirit. Coming home is not about returning to a particular physical place on the planet, but dwelling with our Source wherever we happen to be. Desire to leave the South vanished immediately. I was awed by this revelation and the swiftness with which I felt transformed. How could I understand so much in an instant?! This experience wasn’t about land, it was a divinely given wake-up call to what I’d missed seeing, doing, appreciating. I realized I did not need the 5 acres.
I shared what I’d just experienced with husband and kids, adding, “Let the other people have the land–we don’t need it. I understand why I came to it; it was for this lesson: to build, plant, pray right where I am, right where we are.” As I went to phone the realtor, there was a knock at the door. It was the realtor who marched in excitedly, saying, “You’re not going to believe this! I’ve never seen anything like it! The sellers simply accepted your offer without even looking at the other bid, without even countering yours! The land is yours!”
Then I knew that the building of this home was meant to be. It took three years to build. I had carved in the stone lintel over the fireplace Jermiah’s unforgetable words: Build…Plant…Pray…
Many happy family days followed. I was able to help start a church where there wasn’t any, to actively work to improve local schools, to start a public art gallery business, to teach art classes, to raise Newfoundlands, vegetables, and three children who loved their home. More could be said than a posting allows but I wrote a 500+ page autobiography which tells all: Hiraeth: Beyond My Father’s House: A Woman’s Journey Home (available on Amazon).
About the artwork: I no longer recall the name or exact dimensions of this watercolor (likely a full sheet watercolor which would make it about 36″ x 30″ framed); it sold in the 1980s. What I do remember is it was an abandoned Southern plantation just a few miles down the road from where we built our home. It had a Yankee bullet hole in the front door from the Civil War and a feeling that out of that door, any minute, would come a mistress in hooped skirt. It was a wonderful place to take my adult students to paint.