God and 15 Months of Blessed Homelessness

For fifteen months, I have been "homeless." For fifteen months, I have been receptive to the world, to all the unexpected places and to all the unexpected people. And yet, after all these months, I finally see that my heart has been closed, even to the grandest of things.

So, I sit down now to write honestly about the journey. I think I see how it could be viewed, so I want to show you the sincere transformation, especially now that I have begun to realize what thIs journey was about. I only ask that you take it with a grain of salt. It's difficult to be completely open about spirituality and about personal experiences. It can be viewed as egotistical, because often times such things are. But bear with it, and take it for what you will. Belief is a difficult matter.

For those who helped me, for those who shared steps with me along the way, I want to thank you with the chronology of the past fifteen months, days and nights filled with generous friends, families, and strangers. It's my wish that you know that each experience mattered, and that each will always be remembered.

I suppose it all began around my twenty-seventh birthday. It was not the prettiest of circumstances. I was kicked out of where I was living by a priest for being crazy. For what it's worth, I'll take the blame. I'm most definitely a little "crazy," and I thank God for it. And for the "falling out," when I packed my things and fled like Mary and Joseph in the middle of the night.

I was a bit hopeless then. There were still three weeks left to finish my Master's. I was tempted to quit school, but I chose to stay, to not leave, nor give up. It was the first night when I was most afraid. Before being brought in by a friend, I was sleeping on a couch in the Theology Department when it happened. Pulled into what felt like another dimension, a calm voice spoke to me in a lucid "dream." This was the start, I realize now. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, and it quickened my heart. I experienced a place without form or time; it was something limitless, something new and unexplained.

From that night on, I floated like Abraham. From place to place, I was in search of the source. There was a promise made in secret. It was not easy to explain to other people, but I let myself surrender to that beautiful voice and saw where the path would lead.

Friends, family, and complete strangers took me in. People provided for me abundantly as I lived out of my backpack or suitcase. I saw hospitality at its finest, and I'll never forget those who opened their doors along the way. To you all, this message is given; and, to you all, I can say that your names are written in the stars.

It was a sort of unknown apostolic mission. And this may be difficult for people to grasp, for it was difficult for me to understand. The days were filled with itinerant ministry; yet not one of preaching, but one of searching. Somehow, I felt I was probing my own heart as God probed the hearts of others. For the fifteen months, I was sent to places I never imagined going and introduced to people who I never imagined meeting. I saw grace manifest itself so vividly in the hands of a welcoming host, and I tried to give up my freewill and tried to trust as I wandered from door to door. But now, having wandered and having gone through this tribulation, I am tired. After fifteen months, I have finally said to myself, "Enough is enough." And I have asked God to bring this expedition to its end.

It has all been a blessing. Each experience has been a gift, and I am thankful for every one of my steps, and I will hold each person in my heart of hearts. And now, for those who care, I will retrace my path from the beginning, and with brevity if possible.

After graduating in Los Angeles with my Master's degree, there was the goodbye to a good friend and the road trip to Seattle. I will remember the drive and the cold and warm couches provided along the way. I will never forget those days of happiness, the welcome by friends and family in the Emerald City.

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And I will hold onto the journey that soon followed with Bishop Bennett. Gone back to Los Angeles, there were the last days with family before the days of urban solitude, the beginning of prayer and contemplation.

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I will remember the pilgrimage overseas to Rome and Florence. I will remember the roads of Spain, the silence, and the Spiritual Exercises. I will remember Zaurautz, the home of St Ignatius, the castle of St Xavier, and the words shared between the two: "What profetheth a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?" I will remember Lourdes and the candlelight procession in the rain. I will see the Holy Grail during those days, living with Benedictine monks in the abbey at Montserrat, seeds of transformation to come.

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I will remember the day I wept in Madrid when handed the Zuchetto. It was the start of the next phase. With the pressure to write the book I had imagined for years, I had the gift of meaning and mission. I was to walk the Camino, though it would not come until later. I will remember it forever, the new places and friends in England, falling in love with Edinburgh, the highlands of Scotland, climbing Ben Nevis, Dublin and a friend.

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I will remember living in Madrid longer than any other place, the love and care of an angel, Aurora; meeting new people while writing the first draft of three books. I will remember the sites and slowly losing my mind, feeling myself chiseled in a crucible.

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I will remember my family visiting France, the day dining for hours off Rue de Seine. I will remember the walks along the river, seeing memories reappear, visiting museums; and the dark nights of personal secrets, the love of a distant friend.

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I will remember returning to Spain, the doctor, and packing my backpack and taking the Zuchetto in my pocket and walking the Camino de Santiago. I will remember those long days of Lectio Divina, all 848 kilometers with peregrinos from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Galicia at the end of Spain.

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I will remember parting ways with my friends in Madrid. I will remember the trip across the Atlantic, the Jesuit community, reuniting with old friends and stepping barefoot once more by the Pacific, listening to the crash of waves.

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It was the end of a chapter, my first return home, the beginning of another slow turn. My family waited for me in San Diego. Christmas came and the festivities of nativity. I will hold onto those days and waves, the Nutcracker, helping build a puzzle, spending time beside the ocean, and a hot air balloon ride at dusk.

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And across the Pacific, I will remember the retreat to Maui with Bishop Bennett, more days of reading and contemplation; sunsets that reminded me that I was on a journey beyond my control, a path filled with grace. Wicked in theatre in LA, and the reunion with one of the most caring persons on the way. 

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Again, the pattern continued. The trip to Seattle once more but many months later and this time without the car. It was a darker experience than expected, but I will remember the help of a friend, the walk with my brother and my dad around the lake, and the days with my old man in parks, art galleries, and markets.

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I will remember saying goodbye to my friend and to my old man once more, flying cross country to spend a cold winter with my sister in Virginia. I will remember rewriting my book from page one, condensing 850 pages into 300, the dog, the little excursions, the heartfelt nights by the fireplace, visiting the art museum, laughing a lot, and craft beer and tacos.

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I will remember returning to San Diego, the views and the smiles. I will laugh at going to my former teammate's wedding in Newport and wearing a tuxedo and puffing cigarettes. I will remember tanning in Mexico and my endless birthday celebration, flying a friend's plane, and surfing the shores of California.

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I will remember dreaming again on a train, and laying in the grass and feeling like a child. I will remember wondering, "What on Earth am I doing and why do these words come to mind?" I will remember asking God, "Why do you have this peculiar plan for me?"

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I will remember helping my mother retire to Arizona. I will remember driving across California, editing my book, doing "real" work (God forbid), and nights sleeping with cacti beneath the desert stars.

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And I will remember hearing the voice calling to me again; the cry of my soul, something far away. I will remember the internal fight and the clash of good and bad spirits. I will thank God for sparing me from the disaster in Nepal. I will wonder how my writing and my "working" for money created disturbance and a desire to cross the Atlantic once more, why I left to see the carpets in a Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and the Arabic calligraphy inside Hagia Sophia.

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I will remember the streets of Beirut, the mountains and the Cedars of Lebanon. I will remember swimming in the Mediterranen and two girls who showed me around; Byblos, churches, and an old man who talked to me in the crumbly streets of Beirut. It was then, without knowing it, that this lesson began.

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I will remember going to Jordan because I'd be thrown in jail for planning to go to Israel. I will remember helping a Japanese student recover his phones and money from a crazy soldier, the entire night spent with Colonels talking with Brigadier Generals on the phone. I will remember being a writer and having to write a document to conceal an international story, being woken at the hostel by Jordanian Intelligence, and being hit later by a truck while driving in Amman.

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The next turning point was knowing that I had wandered too far, wanting for things to be better; wanting to step out of the hatred and the war that I had entered. Trying to search for beauty, visiting Jerash and Mount Nebu, looking toward Israel in the distance, standing like Moses with arms outstretched.

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I will remember Petra and the Bedouins, the cave, and the sage tea. I will remember that moment while sitting near to the Monastery, looking across Wadi Araba. There, the desert stretched before me forever, and I will never forget the voice that spoke silently within. There was the change of heart. It was subtle but I felt the fire inside, and I knew then that everything would be different. "Please," I asked God. "Help me to be worthy of your calling; help me to return your Love."

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It was the voice of he who steers my course and directs my sail. And it was then that my direction was diverted, my destiny changed, my choice provoked.

For so long, I had been running; for so long, I had been searching. But I knew then that it was time. It came in an instant. Peace finally set in and my heart opened wide. Nostos, the Greek root of nostalgia - a certain form of longing. "Where?" I began to ask myself. "Where am I going? Where is my home?"

Morning came and I went to Israel, the land of another dream. It was the purpose of the trip and emerged on the final stretch. I was crossing a bridge in the clouds, I could see the holy city waiting for me in the distance. But, before crossing at Aqaba and Eilat, I stared at my shadow in No Man's Land and the Israeli border control stopped me.

For hours, security personnel interrogated me in a small room. They searched through my photos, my Facebook, and asked for the names, numbers, and emails of every person I had been in contact with along the way.

It was a long wait and I told them my whole story. It gave me a chance to see what I was doing and who I was: for fifteen months I had been traveling. In a nutshell, I had very little and was trying to make my way home. I lied about my money. Had they known the truth, they most likely would have turned me away. But I was eventually let in. Seeing Scripture in my phone helped. I was still on pilgrimage after all. I caught the next bus to Jerusalem, four and a half hours beside the Dead Sea. 

I would later be sent away at the Dome of the Rock. I would go to the Western Wall and see men weeping and celebrating with song and tears. I would go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and put my hand on the rock at Golgotha and would place my forehead on the stone slab where Jesus was lain. I would cry inside his tomb and feel myself change. 

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For fifteen months, I have been "homeless." It has been a strange sort of homelessness, but homelessness nonetheless. I have had beds and floors. I have slept in hotels and I have slept outside. I have had dreams of another world; and dreams of laughter and pain. This is the itinerant life I have been living. It has been both a blessing and a privileged curse.

I have had champagne and bed bugs. I have had duck confit, escargot, street food, and bloody diarrhea. I have had spas and oiled massages. I have climbed and leaned hard into sleet and wind, and had to face torrential storms. These are expected while on the road for so long. But the most challenging of the ups and downs is this. I have seen a handful of things, and have finally been asked by a stranger, a friend, and a lover what I believe.

This is the crux of the change - perhaps the final harvest of a summer, winter, and spring. She asks me what I believe and I tell her the best I can. "There is no death. When we die, we live another way." It is my ultimate belief: There is one life, and it lasts forever.

I quote Jesus, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, shall live; and those who live and believe in me shall never die."

And I tell her finally in my childish Spanish the little things I believe: "Creo en un Dios. Creo en la vida, la verdad, la luz y el amor. Creo que la felicidad es posible. Creo que podemos vivir una vida con paz. Creo en la tranquilidad."

The only thing I could not explain is that I am tired of discord. And that is perhaps the one, simple pearl of my seemingly endless viaje. On this journey, I was brought into the center of countless wars. A Japanese student is held at gunpoint and threatened to convert to Islam. I hate to say it, but it's the truth. I helped him, the grandson of a man my grandfather likely fought. So to hell with it. I left saying to myself, "Let them have it. For how beautiful the Holy Land is, I'm not sure it's worth it... In fact, I know it's not." No one thing is worth the destruction of another. 

For fifteen months, I have been searching. But now I know that I no longer have to. All along, the voice has been there. The voice from the Theology department and the voice from the desert: "Don't worry," it said to me that night while in the other dimension. "Quid est hoc ad aeternitatem? What's this moment in eternity?"

I do not speak Latin, but I knew what he had said. From what that moment, I floated like Abraham, and have had that voice carrying me from door to door. It has been the hand that has held me up, and the light waiting at the end of the tunnel. "Come to me," it said. "Don't worry; you'll find yourself in the end."

For fifteen months, I have been "homeless," but only because my heart has been closed. But I finally realize that I have the key in my hand. It is invisible. It is small and delicate. With it, I now know that I can open the door. I can find the tranquility that awaits for me inside. I can unpack my bags. I can quit running in circles, and I can dust off my boots and wash my dirty clothes.

The question is where will I be. I suppose with these things nobody ever knows. Since the first step, grace and Providence have led me. Finally, at the end of all these blessings, another small gift has been given. After these months, with another month of patience and writing, I will finally be led towards my home.

In August, I will move to New York City. I have taken a high school coaching job at an independent school in Manhattan. It seems I'm back to my roots. Football, or soccer for those who prefer to call it that. Like God, I suppose, all things have many names.

It is the start of something new, a sort of resurrection of my sleepy soul. I will look for something more permanent and, perhaps, finally find a home. It is my new wish. Routine, no more running. Just something simple, even in the city, even in the Upper Westside.

An Indian man once told me; "One can escape to the mountains but still have their mind in the city; the real sage can be in the city and have their mind in the mountains." So I say it's time and, to you, "Thank you." 

Thank you for your many prayers and for your support along the way. I'll not forget you for the love you showed, for the doors you opened, the food and beds you shared. And, I promise you, with my understanding of "heaven on earth," those who have given will always receive; and tenfold, so I'm told.

With much love from Madrid, Hunter

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