This spring, Brian Phillips triggered my midlife crisis. At the Rocky Mountain Regional Conference, he gave a talk in which he made a casual statement that led to a poignant discovery. “In the Iliad, Achilles seeks glory, while in the Odyssey, Odysseus desires home,” he announced.
Nothing new there.
“But really,” he continued, “They were both seeking the same thing.”
That statement propelled me on a journey of the soul.
Perhaps without Scripture I may have considered the comment an interpretive statement to be accepted or discarded at will, but I remembered the journey of Abraham in the Genesis narrative, who was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10, ESV). Hebrews 11:14-16 goes on to reveal that, like Abraham, the saints “are seeking a homeland…They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” The heavenly (glory) country (home) is the glory of heaven in a permanent home.
Furthermore, throughout the Scriptures the unifying image of the kingdom of God is the temple in Jerusalem, the dwelling place, or home, of God’s eternal glory, which is the destination of the saints. “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells,” (Psalm 26:8). Whatever heaven is like, it is our homeland, suffused with celestial glory. Our reward is the synthesis of glory and home.
This was a troubling connection to me because, frankly, as a homeschooling mother and a teacher, the glory I crave often feels at odds with the home I love. Lord have mercy upon me, but I have never mused, “Wow, the mundane virtues of daily homeschooling and teaching sure satisfy my desire for glory.” Instead, I feel like Achilles, who was forced by the gods to choose between glory and home. I often perceive my destiny as glory versus home, instead of glory and home. Yet, upon reflection, both Scripture and the great stories are clear: glory and home belong together.
When the dazzle of glory meets the security of home, we experience something like heaven. Glory and home are the two components of divine reward. This unified glory and home is, without exception, every saint’s destiny. As such, our inherent yearning to unify glory and home in our lives should motivate our actions. Therefore, glory and home are worthy ideals to intentionally pursue on our pilgrimage toward heaven.
When the dazzle of glory meets the security of home, we experience something like heaven.
In a topic this lofty, it behooves us to define our terms. In referring to home, I mean more than the place we live, although home requires a physical abode. The place of home is an embodiment of a deeper ideal, which can be captured in the words of my friend Emily, who once commented, “Home is the only place that is also a feeling.” Home is the place or state in which our affections are centered, where our lives are oriented toward our hearts’ true attachments. Home evokes emotions and images of security, warmth, abundance, and intimacy. Home is where we gather around the table for a home-cooked meal as evening shadows lengthen, where we loll on the sofa on a lazy Sunday afternoon, where we drink coffee on the porch on a sunny morning in spring. We know by instinct and desire what home feels like.
In speaking of glory, I mean something quite different, and more complex. Glory is at the heart of accomplishment. To experience glory means to be noticed and admired. Actors perform on a stage, writers publish their books, businessmen cash in their bonuses. From taking a shower to composing a magnum opus, glory motivates us.
Alongside being noticed, glory also implies transcendence. Humans experience glory when we connect to something beyond ourselves. We have each had those moments when something – a wildflower, a strain of music, a glimpse upward in the nave of a great cathedral – lifts the fragile veil between heaven and earth, and we seem to gaze into eternity.
The desire for glory, then, is the soul’s yearning not only to notice, but to be noticed by transcendence. For Christians, glory is a holy experience, oriented first to God, and then to his creation. The Creator is the source of transcendent glory, which he radiates into his creation as the moon reflects the sun. The moon does indeed have its own glory, albeit a mirrored one. When we see the moon, pale and gleaming, in the night sky, we recognize it as lovely in its own right, though not with its own light. So it is with humans made in God’s image. The Imago Dei has its own glory, though its source is its Creator. It is holy and humble to desire the glory that is proper to a creature before its creator.
Perhaps, like me, you have identified with one component of your divine reward over the others. Many of you seek glory. Others of you prefer home. No matter where we are most drawn, however, glory and home are our destiny. Since that is the case, every heart is like Mole’s in The Wind in the Willows, which is one of the greatest explorations of home and glory in literary history. In this excerpt from Chapter 1, Mole has just seen the River for the first time.
“I beg your pardon,” said the Mole, pulling himself together with an effort. “You must think me very rude; but all this is so new to me. So—this—is—a—River!”
“The River,” corrected the Rat.
“And you really live by the river? What a jolly life!”
“By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat. “It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.”
In this exchange, Rat explains to Mole, dizzy with wonder, the reality of his glorious home, or home-in-glory, represented by the River. For the rest of the story, Mole wrestles to make the glory of the river his home. Thus it is with us. Once we contemplate the vision, we struggle to make it real.
All of this raises the question: How shall we unite glory and home in this world? It starts with unifying them in our minds, and it continues by developing habits to cultivate their unity.
Unifying glory and home in our inner lives begins with repentance and deepens through prayer and practice. When we perceive how we have separated these two components of our eternal reward in our souls, we should cry out to God in confession and ask for his mercy. We pray for a proper understanding of how home and glory intersect in our lives. Particularly, we ask to wholeheartedly experience both. This is not a grandiose exercise; it is workaday and personal.
Everyday life as a classical teacher produces glory because our faithfulness reaps an eternal reward.
For me, it goes like this, “Lord Jesus Christ, open my eyes to see your glory reflected in my life at home. Attach my desire for glory to its proper objects. Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Your prayer will be different. I have no trouble longing for glory; you may. You may cling tightly to your homely securities and need to confess that you find glory distasteful. This too requires repentance, for glory and home are eternally connected.
Through confession and prayer, we can orient our habits to unifying glory and home in our daily lives. The mundane virtues necessary to effective teaching can be productive to this end since, well, in addition to many of us actually living where we teach, classical educators know that nurturing wisdom and virtue in an environment of quiet beauty requires habits and liturgies that form our souls to God in the same way they lead our children and our students. This is part of our journey. These habits fit us for the kingdom of God. They prepare us for our eternal home.
Conversely, everyday life as a classical teacher produces glory because our faithfulness reaps an eternal reward. We are on a pilgrimage to the kingdom of God, and Our Lord will speak the words that all glory and home seekers crave: “Well done, good and faithful servant [glory]. Enter into the joy of your master [home].” (Matthew 25:23). The harmony of glory and home is the eternal reverberation of the divine Well Done that will answer every preliminary echo of longing we have ever felt.
Perhaps that is why the banquet honoring Cindy Rollins at the CiRCE National Conference in Charleston felt bathed in heavenly light to many of us: we were heaping glory on a woman whose heart is at home. In the Well Done we offered to Cindy, so fitting to her noble life, we also saw our own home-in-glory foreshadowed in that Montblanc pen. We envisioned ourselves, on our faces before God, knowing that we are unworthy and yet longing, like a child, to have pleased him. Scripture and tradition assure us that he will accept our meager offerings through grace and, in mercy and celebration, welcome us into the Kingdom of God, into our home and our glory.