For reasons too complex to be fully understood, even by themselves, many writers, poets, and artists end up living in countries far distant from their own. English poets have been notorious for migrating to Italy, American painters like living in Paris, and Russian novelists, given the chance, frequently defect to the United States. Commonly too these artists and writers produce lengthy laments as to why they can no longer live in their homelands. Longing and frustrated, desiring greatly to be home, they feel bound by a complex of factors that prevent their returning there. They feel exiled. Sometimes their exile is self-imposed; at other times they sense that the choice has been forced on them. In either case there is, generally, a sense of restless dissatisfaction. I have chosen to call this column (to be a regular feature in the WCR) “In Exile.” Superficially, I have chosen this title because I am now living in Europe, far from much of what I consider as home.
I do not pretend to be a Robert Browning, writing Home-Thoughts, From Abroad, nor a Thomas Wolfe, spinning deep insights out of an exile’s pain, but I do take some amateur’s vicarious delight in the small parallel. For much more significant reasons, I have chosen this title because all of us live our lives in exile. We live our lives seeing (as St. Paul puts it) “as through a glass, darkly.” We live in our separate riddles, partially separated from God, each other, and even from ourselves. We experience some love, some community, some peace, but never these in their fullness. Our senses, egocentricity, and human nature place a veil between us and full love, full community, and full peace. We live, truly, as in a riddle: The God who is omnipresent cannot be sensed; others, who are as real as ourselves, are always partially distanced and unreal; and we are, in the end, fundamentally a mystery even to ourselves.
In that sense we are, all of us, far away from home. We are in exile, longing to understand more fully and to be understood more fully. The asphyxiating ambiguity of the riddle we live in slowly tires us. Daily our hunger for consummation within the body of Christ intensifies. We feel so distanced from so much. We would want to go home! And, while we are on this pilgrimage, our perspectives are only partial; our vision, even at best, is only that of the “foreigner,” one out of the mainstream, who does not fully see nor understand. From this exiled perspective I will offer my reflections. I will try to offer them humbly and honestly. However, given the fact that Adam and Eve too were my first parents, I suspect that, more often than may be justifiably excused, bias may displace honesty, and arrogance may parade itself as humility. For this I apologize in advance. The column itself will take a variety of forms. Margaret Atwood once said: “What touches you is what you touch!” I plan to touch on a whole lot of things, stuff of all kinds.
Mostly I will offer reflections on various theological, church and secular issues. (That about covers everything!) Occasionally, however, prose will give way to poetry and more serious reflection will be replaced by satire. As well (though not often) I will offer a review on some book which I deem particularly excellent. The reflections will not be in any way systematic, though occasionally I will do five or six columns in a series on one particular theme. If there is any one umbrella under which these diverse reflections might find a home, it is precisely their title, “In Exile.” All of them, in their own way, are trying to untangle the riddle, to end the exile, to help get a pilgrim home! In Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot writes: “What we call the beginning is often the end – and to make an end is to make a beginning.”
This, folks, is a beginning!