Sometimes, when we speak of a person dying, we say they're "going home." It's meant as a comforting thought, as if they're on their way to a family reunion where they'll be reunited with all their ancestors who've gone before. But it can also imply a return, as in, going back home, like a return to our roots. It's a fascinating concept, that where we're going might just be, as well, where we're from.
This is a strange thought in the modern age, where we tend to think in straight lines--things have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I recall learning that in the Bible the cyclical ways of nature that are celebrated by other, older, world religions--life, death, rebirth--are trumped by the notion that history never returns, only advances, from creation through salvation to eventual consummation. Don't look back, only forward. God goes before us, levelling mountains and smoothing plains. Some would say it is this notion, above all, that has guided our thinking in the West, the Promised Land always glimmering in front us, never behind, beckoning to us.
But if where we're going is also where we're from, a very different picture emerges. It assumes the shape, not of a straight line, but of a spiral. It implies that we are, in fact, always returning to where we started, but in a slightly different position, changed as we are by our circles round the sun. It could well be that, in death, we don't move on at all, but return, perhaps even to start again!
Margot McKinnon, who I speak with this week in The Mystic Cave podcast, is a spiritual teacher for whom "where we're from" is key to our finding in this life "where we're going." Her personal sensitivities have brought her to this conclusion. She sees us as being birthed from some sort of pre-life, where we were given a purpose to fulfill or a task to perform through our lifetime. We find that purpose by looking back and remembering, as best we can, the beatific place from which we came.
That place, like the heaven we envisage when we die, is a place of unconditional love. Our spirits know this, Margot says, but we forget it in the hurly-burly of everyday living. We project it forward to an idealized future ("heaven on earth") or to heaven itself, when finally we will know that love for ourselves. Unless, as she contends, we already know it, for it lives in our bones. When we seek justice and peace on earth, we're not calling upon an untried ideal, we're re-calling something we've already known.
It's a fascinating bookend to our questions about death and dying, that where we're going is a place we've already been. Furthermore, we will find our life's purpose not by looking ahead, and dreaming, but by looking back, and remembering. Beneath all our frantic busyness and all our stress lie buried the seeds of who we were created to be, and why. The answers to our most personal questions--Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?--may reside in going back, all the way back, to where we're from, which is to say ... home.
This week in The Mystic Cave: In the Beginning: A Conversation with Margot McKinnon.