There Is No Domestic Heart

There Is No Domestic Heart

 

My son lives in a world without shoes. Not out of poverty, which is staggeringly common elsewhere in the world. It’s out of my inability to tame this little guy. And I love it that way. He’s also never known a barber’s shears. We’re trying to keep his hair crazy and wild until he’s at least two. Just letting him go a little unvarnished for as long as we can.

 

I studied and worked in a Catholic school environment where shoes & haircuts were as important to the forming of young minds as phonics & algebra. I found a lot of freedom in my twelve years of wearing a school uniform. I never had to decide what to wear! And for a night owl like me, the fewer decisions in my morning the better.

 

The democracy of it really resonated with me. The idea that we’re all equals in the classroom, even when that was rarely true, appealed to the way I saw the world from a young age.

 

The philosophy behind a uniform is sound, but when it started bleeding into who & what I was, I found myself pushing against the very boundaries that were intended to help me grow. My heart lived in the frontiers of my faith, but I felt stuck behind a hundred fences. I was protected and hidden and guarded and shut away by my family and my culture in tower just like Rapunzel.

 

In the midst of the stone walls of my school, I tried to find moments of freedom and inspiration. The majority of my teachers were consecrated sisters in habits. Two of the schools I attended were inside convents. I loved the camaraderie & focus of religious life & considered it often over the years. I have great love & devotion to those women’s sacrifices for me. They inspired me with a life lived fully within the walls of their home and engaged fully in the community inside and outside their gates.

 

I especially loved the sisters who saw the adventure in my soul & sent me down all kinds of paths of discovery.

 

Sr Lucia taught me to sit under old oak trees to sketch their creeping endless root systems. These trees knew no borders and often send their roots below the stone walls to push them up and break them wide open.

 

Sr Barbara introduced me to the young adult novel The Bronze Bow. In it, teenage Daniel witnesses his father’s crucifixion & goes on a journey to right the wrongs of a 1st century Roman republic. Each of her book recommendations for my never-satisfied reading appetite took me far away from all the bells & rules & routine of my everyday school life.

 

Sr Ann brought Maryknoll missionaries speakers to our school who set my heart on fire with tales of dramatic gospel moments all over the world. They created a desire to engage in the wild world away from my comfortable life.

 

My most treasured example will be always Sr Dorothy Kazel. This teacher from my high school during the late 1970s left safety & family behind to preach the word of God and help the helpless in El Salvador. She was martyred in the most terrible way & buried in a shallow grave off a dusty road. Her death and the death of her companions was a turning point in the civil war in her adopted home.

 

I thought of her often when I was teaching in a Catholic high school myself. Her bravery. Her sacrifice. And the wildness in her heart that drove her to serve the poor in the midst of years of violence in a civil war so far from home. Her example asked me to stretch more, encounter more, and bravely follow the call of God on my life.

 

There’s an exciting thing about nuns that few of us think about. When you get a large group of women religious together, few of them fit the mold of a soft-spoken, serene saint. More often than not, they are women who looked at the life around them & opted out.

 

At some point they opted out of dating & makeup & hookups & magazines & limited job prospects. They opted out of #momlife and #toddlerlife and #roseallday to do something truly radical with their life.

 

They knew what it was like to be a little wild inside & encoraged me to follow that seldom-traveled breadcrumb path into the woods of my faith.

 

 

 

 

Years later, when it came time to choose names for our son, my husband & I decided to give him the (nick)name Hansel for this very reason. To symbolize a freedom we both cultivate in our life together.

 

Since our first date, my husband & I have looked for every reason to embrace the German idea of Waldeinsamkeit. It’s the truly untranslatable concept of that unique feeling of being alone in the forest. The great adventure of woodland solitude. We’ve visited every national park we could find & backpacked in the mountains and wilds of Colorado.. Being alone in the woods is one of the few places where I can take a deep breath & stop the noise of all the nonsense in the world. These travels reminded me of the fairy tales and stories of my youth.

 

The story of Hansel & Gretel to me is about walking away from a bleak and ordinary life into an unknown that can only be better than the known. Their known world of famine and violence made a warm gingerbread house all the more enticing. It also gave these forest children the survival skills they needed to exact revenge on a premature end to their journey.

 

Fairy and folk tales are like that. They take us into the wood and show us the way out. Many scholars focus on the warning aspects of fairy tales. They can behave as a code of ethics to manage the dangers of a frontier existence. (Yes, early modern Germany & France had their frontiers too.) These stories can act as a sociological tool to understand how societies keep & maintain order.

 

They certainly help children listeners explore fear & death & violence & anxiety from the safety of their parents’ laps. Hansel & Jack & Red Riding Hood are Everyman for children living in a world of uncertainty. Their stories help children imagine a world filled with safety and danger, happiness and sorrow, light and dark, good and evil. And heed the call to walk into the woods on their own.

 

So what do martyrs & woods & wolves have in common? They’ve all been ways I’ve found to challenge myself to cultivate a wild heart.

 

One of my very favorite musicians, John Mark McMillan, released the song Wilderlove from his album Mercury & Lightning in 2017. The refrain from that song has been playing in my head since I first heard it.

 

There is no domestic heart.

 

It’s such a chorus in my life that I’ve been working on an embroidery piece for my son’s room for the better part of a year with that memorable verse.

 

What does it mean exactly? For me it means that we earthly creatures were never meant to be tamed, never meant to be civilized, never meant to be domesticated. Despite our fine haircuts & sensible shoes, we are still a heartbeat away from the wilderness of God’s heart for us.

 

He created us in a garden of vines & dangerous fruit & serpents. He calls us back to it with every heartbeat. That wilder love is hidden within all of us. Unrestrained. Untamed. Unbound. Wild.

 

If you find yourself caring for little ones, I invite you to remember that there is no domestic heart. No matter how civilized children seem when we dress them up & comb their hair. The nurturers of the world – classroom teachers, parents, nurses, doctors, dance teachers, music teachers, art teachers, coaches – would do well to keep this in mind.

 

Let’s raise brave young daughters who make wild choices in life, scraped knees, dirty handprints and all. Gretels who can fight their way out of the forest but always find their way home.

 

Let’s raise wise sons who walk barefoot through life, with long hair & tall tales. Hansels who are smart enough to leave breadcrumbs on the trail and are drawn to things as sweet as their hearts.

 

Let’s allow our hearts to love a little wilder, fight a little harder, think a little smarter, and bravely face the wolves and bears and serpents hiding in our own forests.

 

When we embrace the storms and tangled branches of life, live amidst the serpents and temptations, encounter each other in our weaknesses, joys, fears, failures, sins, and triumphs, we are more fully human and we allow God to be more fully divine. We trust Him with the outcome. I don’t think we’re meant to be locked away in convents without at least living in community with those around us. We are called to engage with the whole person sitting next to us, even if they could be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

 

It’s in those moments that we release fear and allow God to lead us into the forest for a time so we can bring light and love to the wilderness. This isn’t meant to be an easy task or an uncomplicated journey. It’s meant to challenge us as we wrestle with it.

 

What strikes me most about the story of Hansel and Gretel is that they had to leave the safety of their home to find out who they truly were. They had to encounter the darkness to find the light. It’s important to equip ourselves with breadcrumbs, but it’s also important to strike out into the forest. If that means we come uncomfortably close to danger and disaster, all the better.

 

 

 

 

Bravely stepping out our front doors to walk in community, whether that’s in the four walls of a church, the four walls of a classroom, the four walls of a cubicle, or the four walls of a domestic church, is a brave and worthy adventure. Setting our security behind is the best way to encounter each other. We can live in a dangerous, frightening, seemingly hopeless world, but if we want to bring light to the darkness, it’s up to us to strike out, breadcrumbs in hand, and get to the work of the Gospel.

 

Jesus gives us the best words of encouragement for our journey. In Matthew 10:16 He tells us:

 

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

 

God doesn’t lock us up in towers like Rapunzel, keeping us from hurt and disappointment and confusion and pain. He equips us with His gifts and promises to always accompany us on our way. He gives us the gifts of shrewd discernment and innocent hearts. His love for us is strong and unguarded and free and wild. He asks us to honor that part of our souls that follows His lead into the dark and deep woods. And when our breadcrumbs are the Bread of Life, we can trust that He is leading us ever closer to home with each step of our journey.

 

 

 

 

 

“Wilderlove” by John Mark McMillan

Plumbed the badlands as a child
Where the dust devils dance
On the dreams of the ivy wild

The places you grow up
The tumbling ground is rough
There is no domestic heart
Then what have we become: less pedestrian?
There is no domestic heart

The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we reckon with it, and we wrestle with it
The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it

You are the wilderness and I fall fast drawn
To the rise of your vast expanse
I feel so underdressed so civilized and small
By the powers that you possess

The places you grow up
The tumbling ground is rough
There is no domestic heart
Then what have we become: less pedestrian?
There is no domestic heart

The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it
The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it

The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it
The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it

Plumbed the badlands as a child
Where the dust devils dance
On the dreams of the ivy wild

The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it
The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it

The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it
The Wilderlove is hidden within us
And we wrestle with it, and we wrestle with it

We wrestle with it

 

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