James Rising Eagle Haney, cherokee, age 27, opposing the wishes of his parents, had determined to leave his safe Oklahoma home and find out what lay beyond the boundaries of the territory.

His travels led him eastward, along wilderness rivers, across plains, through massive mountains, into bustling cities, places he had never imagined, places which startled him by their contrast with his native territory.

But as he pressed eastward from Chattanooga, across the ridges, a wholly new sense flooded his mind, something he had never felt before.  For as he came within sight of the Smoky Mountains, he knew at some deep level, in the soul, that he was in his own home.  Not his Oklahoma home.  But a home he had never seen, yet recognized on first sight as familiar.  Familiar, and comfortable, and warm.  And he felt drawn into this home, into this mountain, by a force he could not resist.

James’s family, after marching the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma, had never discussed their journey, and they set up their household apart from the villages where such talk was heard.  James did not know that his family came from the Smokies.  He did not know that he, conceived in the Smokies, had slept in his mother’s womb as the family journeyed to its exile.

But standing before the mountains, a mystical sense, surging, flooding, overwhelming, told him he was at home, he was in his own house.  A house he had never seen, yet knew to be his, in a way no other house, no other place, had ever been his.  In that towering mass he found his mother, his father, his land, his all.


*     *     *


So it happened with me.  Born into a methodist family of eastern Tennessee, I wandered through denominations, philosophies, isms, cities, towns, countries, elation, despair, hope, sorrow, often fascinated by my findings, often not, but always knowing myself to be, even among my own people and in my own town, a stranger in a strange land.  A stranger, indeed a bit cherokee myself, searching for my home, searching for the place where I could rest at last.

At length I stood before a house, enormous, ancient, a house I had never seen before.  But the house was familiar.  I knew the place.  I recognized it, even as a mystical voice within told me, –Approach.  Knock.  Go in.  This is your house.  You were conceived here, and you have returned here.  Go in.  You are at home.

The house that stood before me was the Roman Catholic Church.


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield