Looking for God while moving into a new house that doesn't feel like home

You move into a new house, and of course, it’s a hell of a lot of work. You’ve been pulling 14-hour days, hauling boxes until your arms and legs ache. You start setting things up, just so. This goes here. Should we put that over there? A seemingly endless number of objects to be placed, to be positioned as the perfect servants they are, never moving unless we bid them. And you start learning the little peculiarities of the place: the precise way you have to pull to get the shower to work—how the front door sticks a bit. Even the sounds of it, a kind of minor encyclopedia: the kitchen tile that makes an odd squelching noise when you step on it; the way the china rattles in the hutch when someone walks past.

But all along you’re engaged in another kind of housewarming, too, almost without thinking. You hardly notice it. It is more than one’s emotional attachment to a house, as real as that is. It is something that takes no notice of the elements of home staging, like the smell of fresh-baked bread to entice renters or buyers. You’re seeking, feeling for, slipping into, something far deeper.

Advertisement

You move into a new house, and of course, it’s a hell of a lot of work.

I worried for days, unaware of it, that there were no mockingbirds at the new house. In our old neighborhood, just three miles away, the world was alive with them in May and June, their songs filling me whether I listened or not. Then I heard one, here, from the branches of the Modesto ash in our front yard. Fool, I told myself, you just happened to move in early July. The season shifts, and they stop singing then. Mates are already won; sex on hidden branches has filled the world with a different, silent kind of song. Eggs are growing in feathered bodies, nests being built. They’re here, too. Of course.

We think about shower curtains, where to hang the mirrors, how to pack our plastic Christmas bins in the little shed. I try to remember how to reconnect all the parts of my computer. I go out to the car at night, off to grab some fast food, and notice a gleam of stars through leaf-thick branches above me.

We talk continually about what we need to buy: a new rug for the dining room. What color? Indoor-outdoor is best; they wear better and are easier to clean. At night I fall into bed, my head as weary as my body. But I find myself waking to sunlight crowding at the window, warming my limbs. Ah, the window looks east—it can be for us like it was for those who lived here long ago, homes arranged so their doorways always faced the dawn.

What capacity does this new place have?

My neighbor—whose backyard is a botanical version of a middle-class pleasure palace, a Cheesecake Factory of greenery and garden knick-knacks—he tells me offhandedly that he gets hummingbirds all the time. That eases me, the part of my self that is learning the new house, the new street, the new bit of earth beneath it, easing the part of me that fears a particular kind of emptiness amid the great but level fruitfulness of a modern American suburb.

The flurry of questions continues: Where is the closest grocery store? How long will it take us to get to work from here? Oh, you can’t go that way; it will take too long. But under those questions, a quieter one, less pressing in the practical world, far more pressing in the depths of myself: What capacity does this new place have?

How will I encounter the sacred in the minutiae and particulars of this one small place?

The question keeps rising in wordless form; I realize with only mild surprise that I myself am asking it, again and again. I know, without thinking, exactly what it means: the capacity for vision, for some strange, sudden eruption of spiritual truth into my consciousness. How will I encounter the sacred in the minutiae and particulars of this one small place? What relationship may arise between my spirit and the sidewalks, the front lawn, the feel of the house at midnight? It’s happened before—vision has come to me, changing everything. Can it happen here?

In the middle of our big moving day, sweating and dirt-smudged, she and I paused at twilight to glimpse the new crescent through vines and trees in the backyard. Nothing made us feel more at home.

I took all the power strips and extension cords, cleaned them up, rolled and rubber-banded them, put them in a drawer so we can find them when we need them. The cable guy came and connected us. I spot an enormous deciduous, with a leaf-heavy crown, off beyond the houses across the street. It must be on the next block, maybe farther. I step out the side door of the garage to finish a drink, find myself peering beyond the top of my new fence to those high branches as they shift in the wind.

Yes, I think. The way those leaves move, the sway of those branches in the wind just after the sun sets. Yes. It can happen here.

My spirit begins to take its ease. It has its own great animal faith in eventuality, even concerning that which seems, by its very radiance, impossible. And now it feels this place, begins to let itself seep into everything here, the slope of the roof, the dirt of the empty flowerbeds, the worn wood of the back fence, the stuccoed walls, each blade of newly sodded grass. It greets passing breezes, neighborhood smells, little rainbows in the sprinkler arcs.

I begin to wait.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement
More: Spirituality

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A spokesman for the archdiocese described the meeting as “personal” in nature and aimed at “renewing a friendship that goes back 15 years or so.”
Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 14, 2017
Black women cannot be expected to continue to save white people from the poor choices they make.
Anthea ButlerDecember 14, 2017
After a visit to Christ in the Desert, I knew it was not the monks whose lifestyle I should question.
Michael DauschDecember 14, 2017
Fidelis Mukonori, S.J. Photo by Russell Pollitt, S.J.
Just two hours after army tanks rolled out onto the streets of Harare in November, Father Mukonori got a call asking him to meet with the army’s generals.
Russell Pollitt, S.J.December 14, 2017