One of the recurring themes in the book I’m writing on my conversion from Catholicism to Buddhism back to Catholicism is a sense of alienation, for lack of a better word. At virtually every stages of my journey, although expressed sometimes in different words, I describe a feeling of not quite belonging…of not feeling completely part of my surroundings…of feeling like I didn’t fully fitting in. The image I sometimes use is of a jar top not quite screwed on correctly…it is on, but not fully in place.
At one level that seems surprising. I have a number of friends, including some with whom I am incredibly close and have deep sharing relationships with. I have a good family life – a husband I love and a daughter who fills me with more delight each day. Nonetheless, it is not enough to create a sense of really belonging. Still there persists a feeling of not quite fitting in completely.
At another level, the feelings I experience are not all that surprising at all. Jesus’ message to his disciples in today’s Gospel from St. John helps explain the feeling. Jesus tells them, “you do not belong to the world.” We are in this world, but not of this world.
Like Augustine’s statement that our hearts are restless until they rest in God, Jesus’ statement helps explain how it is possible to feel alienation even in the face of loving friends and family. We can have “happy” lives at some level, but it will never be enough. That is not a criticism of the world, merely a statement of the limitations of this world in which we are temporary visitors (to use my friend Joe’s phrase). Where we really belong is fully united with the divine and anything short of that inevitably doesn’t fit quite right.