Coffee Cups and Emmanuel

 I knew now… why I could feel homesick at home. — G.K. Chesterton


O Come O Come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear


Coffee cups

I don’t remember much of the particulars of that conversation. I remember fumbling around for words as my fingers cupped and cupped again the white coffee cup. I remember the black and white tile, the glint of green that made you feel like you were at a Gatsby party. I’d peeled off the winter layers, plopping down on the chair while she sat in the booth, me trying to get to the heart of what it means to be a writer and a person of faith. She listening. Both of us aching to put words to calling and confusion.

It was a simple coffee date with an established writer who could tell me about this artist life. But it held all the ache of what was, what is, and what might be. Now, in memory, there are only images and pictures — there are no words — just glistening eyes and still that longing to know what it is any one of us was born to do.


Swaying Songs

Now, on any given Sunday morning, I’m swaying on the front row, my body moving to the beat of the heart of God. I think if I can get my body into it maybe then I’ll recapture that elusive spiritual epiphanic moment of my teens when God was close in the hiddenness of quiet prayer, journaling, and reading. Then it seemed all the world opened in possibility.

Now, the movements of the Spirit are quieter.

Whether there’s spiritual clarity or not, these days I’ve got to figure out a way to form the ache and the hope into my limbs, in song.

So I sway. I raise my hands. I hear our congregation sing. I raise my hands at the benediction. I wonder: Will God come down today? Will he make himself known? Will he crack open hard hearts like mine? Will he make his home with us once more?

O come, o come, Emmanuel.


The End of the Road

My favorite story is of the lost boy walking home on a dusty path, rehearsing his apology speech. And there on on ordinary day, the wonder in the Father’s eye grows when he sees this son return. He picks up his respectful robes and runs like a boy, lungs pumping, legs shaking, motivated all by love that overflows like wine. Because his boy has come home. Home was once again home. 

But, us? We can still feel ourselves homesick even at home. So we wait.

This ache for home is in all of us — this deep hunger for belonging, to be a part of a community that sees you as you are and yet loves you because and in spite of yourself.

We yearn for a home where we are seen, acknowledged, celebrated and given good work to do. We long to be placed in a way that fits — a home that draws out our doubts and makes room at the table.

There, at home, we imagine we’d stop obsessing about ourselves, and do good work because it simply was good. The sort of work that was pleasurable and true, if not a trifle uncomplicated.

Instead we walk around, aching. Both aching for what was and for what will be. Sandwiched in-between the “already” and “not yet” and wondering what it is we were born to do.

We’ve traveled far from home. It is the distance that shows us in fact, what home is.

Is home always lost? Can it ever be found? Can we ever inhabit the glorious present?

Or, are we always, on this side of the Garden and on this side of Heaven, waiting — our hips swaying, our hands cupping coffee cups just hoping for Christ to appear?

Ashley Hales

11 thoughts on “Coffee Cups and Emmanuel

  1. Oh, this is where my heart is this morning. Thank you, Ashley. And man, that G.K. Chesterton quote.

    • So glad to encourage you a bit — if only to say, me too. I just love that Chesterton quote. I come back to it again and again. Thanks, Linda.

    • Yes, I think so too. I wonder how we blunt the home that God’s made within us when we don’t choose to see that. Thank you, as always for reading and being here.

  2. “It’s the distance that shows us where home is.” Wonderful words, all of them. Thank you , Ashley.

  3. This post whispers of the same wistfulness I felt when I read Keeping Place, and so I’m saying yes. Yes, I think the waiting is the chief component of the groaning here “on this side.” Maybe they are the same.

    • Jen’s book is a favorite! I think so too. If we’re not groaning in anticipation we’re probably too distracted. Thank you for your wisdom, Michele.

  4. Oh Ashley, your words are always such a gift and these words especially spoke to me. So much THIS: “This ache for home is in all of us — this deep hunger for belonging, to be a part of a community that sees you as you are and yet loves you because and in spite of yourself.” Thank You!

    • Thank you so much, Tara. Thanks for your sweet words of encouragement and I think that’s the best we can hope for: that our words are gifts and that they point us all to Jesus. Take care.

  5. For whatever reason (too many to number right about now) I’ve felt fragmented and far away from God in this I-am-with-you season, pulled in other directions and trying to hear God’s voice. I beat myself up for not being more centered–I just wrote a book about Christmas and finding God’s presence, for goodness’ sake–but then He speaks today through my little devotional book (Jesus Calling) wherefrom I’ve been absent for way too long. Smile.
    “I carefully crafted your longings and feelings of incompleteness, to point you to me. Therefore, do not try to bury or deny these feelings. Beware of also trying to pacify these longings with lesser gods like people, possessions and power.” He is the one who gave me these longings for Himself and for home. No matter how far I stray He is always calling me.
    Your words are a sacred and holy echo today, my friend. thank you.

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