Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where, When You Have To Go There, They Have To Take You In.

Raining, raining, raining.  It's been raining on-and-off for about four days, and it's glorious.  I love the rain for reasons I really won't pretend to understand but that involve it being pretty and soothing and cathartic in some odd way.

But I didn't intend to write about rain.  I intended to write about home.

Home has always been a tricky subject for me.  My family moved from the town where I was born to the small town where I grew up when I was five years old.  I went to school there for three or four years before I became homeschooled.  But I don't remember ever, ever feeling at home there.  For whatever reason, my young psyche just rejected the place.  It's a nice enough town, but I never considered it more than a resting place between birth and college. 

When I was about fourteen, I started thinking about college full-time.  I don't mean that I started thinking about the idea of becoming a full-time student.  I mean that I started spending the vast majority of my waking hours thinking about college.  This isn't so surprising, as I was brought up to look forward to college the way a lot of girls look forward to their weddings.

But I did transfer every smidgen of my teenage angst and misfit issues onto the idea of college, latching on to the idea that I would be happy in college and finally feel at home.  This was when I rejected the little town I lived in as being home in any sense.  At the time, I even refused to think of it as my "hometown", despite the fact that I lived there for most of my life before I left for college.  I attached a number of grievances to the place, hoping subconsciously that if I convinced myself the problem was my little town, then my problems would be solved when I jettisoned forth from that little town into my own adult life.

When I finally, finally, FINALLY picked a college and moved there to study math, I finally found home in many ways.  I lived in an honors housing community that was superb in all the ways that don't show up on paper.  My little dorm room in that concrete building became the home I felt I hadn't had since I was five.

After I moved out of the dorms and into a little house off-campus with some friends, that house became home.  But I also had always had another sense that the place didn't matter when it came to home, and I remember thinking sentimentally that "home" was really where the man I loved was.  I really loved at least two men in college, and another probably goes on that list as well. By that definition, home was wherever he was.  Sometimes home was on highway 6 in my big red truck, if he was sitting in the other seat.  Sometimes it was the grocery store that was always so crowded, if he was there with me.  And sometimes it was Kyle Field, as long as he was there to be kissed when the Aggies scored.

But then, I also remembered when home shattered.  The room where we sat while we finally broke things off went from being the bubble of home in a frightening world to being just another place in a world that was homeless.

So where do you go in a world where you're homeless?  I was becoming Catholic by that point, and so I felt distanced from my family more than I had ever been.  My generation of Aggies graduated a few months later, and so my roommates and I all left that beautiful little house on the edge of town.  I wandered around Europe alone for part of the summer, which fits quite well into this narrative and acts as a poignant metaphor for my rootless existence at the time.

Home has always been a tricky subject for me, which is why I was caught so off-guard when I realized out-of-the-blue that I would never be "homeless" again, because there would always be the Mass.

Why had I never seen it before?  Mass was home.  It always would be.  It was the place where I would always be welcome, no matter what I'd done or how long I'd been gone. 
One key to understanding Mass is realizing that Mass is where heaven meets earth and earth meets heaven.  Like a metaphysical tesseract, the two altars (one here, one there) meet and merge, as do the priests who act in persona Christi. It's not a coincidence that the "Lamb of God" features so prominently in Mass, because it features prominently (and primarily) in the writings of John, who saw heaven and wrote about it in Revelation, nor is it a coincidence that the presence of the Lamb of God is so important in both the liturgy given in Revelation and the liturgy used on earth. We put relics of the saints under the altars because the martyrs in heaven cry out from under the altar.  There is silence and incense, white vestments (white is the color of the priesthood, though other colors are used for different seasons), the Sanctus, the sign of the Cross on people's foreheads, and a good deal more.  Revelation is poetical and deeply symbolic, but then so is Mass.

Like a good home, Mass doesn't always make me comfortable.  But it's always home, whether they're speaking English, Spanish, Latin, Vietnamese, Swahili, or whatever else, and whether it's in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican or in an old house that used to be a dentist's office just off the campus of Rice University.  And like a good home, it doesn't cease to exist or be my home when I'm not there.  Maybe that's why we call it "Mass" (from the Latin ite missa est, which means "it has been sent"): Mass is home, and home goes with you wherever you are. Deo gratias.

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