Sunrise Magazine Online

At Home in the Universe

By Madeline Clark

Home no longer exists in the old sense. But every situation has a meaning for us, and it may be that modern life is demanding of us that we learn the deeper meaning of what might be called homelessness. Of this we have a supreme example in the multitude of displaced persons forcibly torn from their original moorings and now wanderers on the face of the earth. But the pattern extends far beyond them: even to those untouched by war and still surrounded by the normal processes of living. In his remarkable book, Venture to the Interior, Laurens van der Post records a remark made by a fellow-passenger on the train en route to Kenya in Africa: "Please tell me who is not a displaced person nowadays? This is the age of displaced people. The world is full of people who do not belong anywhere in particular."

Yet, apart from the tragedy and suffering of the war-victims, and looking at it purely fundamentally, there is in this displacement little to regret. The love of home is still one of the sacred impulses of the human heart, only there has been a transition from the more vegetative, slow-moving phase of our experience, and now we are preoccupied with things far removed from the static and the merely protective. We are like birds that have been pushed from the nest, and now have in some sense found our wings, partly because we have had to do so, but partly because we were ready for the experience. We no longer dwell upon things past, but are evolving the faculty of living completely within the moment, then letting it go, while we meet the oncoming future with readiness. There is a basic advantage in this way of living, because it keeps us abreast of nature's forward movement. If this requires a state of comparative 'homelessness,' we are in good company. Jesus Himself said to the scribe who wanted to follow Him: "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head."

The truth is that home has moved out from the confines of four walls. Perhaps, like Christina Rossetti, we think of home as a state of ultimate rest and satisfaction towards which we are toiling. It may be that this is what Emerson had in mind in his famous epigram: "Duty done is the soul's fireside." Laurens van der Post, himself longing for his homeland, from which he had been exiled for many years by the fortunes of war, describes how in faraway Kenya the officials who were keepers of the 'outposts of empire,' although profoundly homesick for their native soil, stuck it out year after year, and "made their work their home." And these officials of course are typical of workers on the outposts everywhere.

I once stayed at a small sanitarium in the hills of San Diego County, in California. The doctor in charge had also the care of some half dozen small Indian reservations in the area, and he took me with him once on one of his errands of mercy. Going and coming, we covered a hundred-odd miles, so there was plenty of time to talk. I already knew his story. He had come to America from his native Holland in order to have a wider field for the practice of the then new science of psychiatry, for which he had been trained at Heidelberg and Leyden. Working towards the fulfillment of this dream, striving to obtain a foothold in this new country, had kept him creatively occupied against homesickness. But now he was going to have to take leave of his little establishment in the hills. His partner in the sanitarium venture had misapplied the funds of the institution and then washed his hands of any responsibility, leaving the place in a state of near bankruptcy, and our doctor to struggle on alone in a losing battle that was about to end in the closing of the institution. With him, the past was dissolving almost faster than he could meet the future. Yet he was not daunted. On the way home he gave a hint of the philosophy which had kept him serene and free from grief and dread. He said simply, "I never feel homesick or troubled with uncertainty, no matter where I am, because I feel at home in the universe."

He meant, of course, that consciousness went so deep that it found no fathom within the confines of the universe itself. That even our waking consciousness could be sustained by the great over-all awareness of the Divine everywhere, and in that trust could feel at home and at ease. Yet there was more to it than that. Looked at from the standpoint of the learning soul, our actual field of experience is within the far-flung orbit of all that we can perceive. This is the universe; for it is scientifically provable that unless we were in some way a part of the universe we could not perceive the distant stars or any part of it. There is evidence that we are evolving an instinct of this, for in becoming more 'space-minded' as we are, we have actually lifted ourselves a degree above the earthbound.

The soul has often been likened to a pilgrim engaged in a long journey towards divinity. It is this journey and its purpose that the inner self of us is chiefly interested in. It cares very little what homes it may occupy along the road; they are only way-stations in which it lingers to gain experience. The old house, once the scene of a lively family drama, now only waiting to be demolished, is a symbol of a philosophic truth: that when a home has finished its usefulness as a cradle of learning, and the dwellers have quitted it and gone on to broader learning, that home is a mere shell and has lost its significance for its erstwhile occupants. It is the same with the physical body that is our home during any one lifetime. When it has yielded the sum of all its functioning and can no longer be a feeler for us by which to contact the universe, it falls away and dissolves.

Anything that we build up, use, and then outgrow, comes under the same law. That is why civilizations, which have been built up by the creative genius of whole peoples, and in which their humanities have felt very much at home, begin to fall apart at the very moment when they have reached their finest flowering. The flower has bloomed, the impulse is spent, and the civilization passes, to make way for an even greater one.

Is there, then, no such thing as a settled home? Obviously, we are challenged to find the sense of home and fireside within ourselves, in a certain innate stability of consciousness, a state of inner rest, enabling us to feel at home anywhere, and to communicate the same feeling to others. Every human being carries in the heart the sacred hearth-fire. The quest for it is not outside of us, but within, for within us are the potentialities of the universe — in other words — Divinity.

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When one door shuts, another opens — Spanish Proverb