"We live in a humble abode," said Uriah Heep in David Copperfield. That was 1850; I don’t think anyone refers now to his or her house as an 'abode', humble or otherwise. But the word itself is interesting. It is related to 'abide'. You abide in an abode. (The words 'ride' and 'road' have a similar relationship.)
    The word ‘abide’ is used repeatedly in John's gospel. It is variously translated as ‘live’ and ‘remain’ and 'make your home'. It is a beautiful word. It was a word much beloved of Meister Eckhart, the 14th century German mystic. He wrote, “It is not right to love God for His heaven's sake nor for the sake of anything at all, but we should love Him for the goodness that He is in Himself. For whoever loves him for anything else does not abide in Him, but abides in the thing he is loving Him for. If, therefore, you want to abide in Him, you must love Him for nothing but Himself.”
    That's how a person behaves at home: we love the people there for their own sakes, not for what we can get from them. Some saint (St Teresa of Avila, I think) said she would like to close down both heaven and hell, so that people would do good for its own sake, not because of greed or fear, and love God for God's own sake. That would be ‘abiding in God.’
    Equally, God abides in us - in our ‘umble abode. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” He promised too to send the Holy Spirit. This means that the Trinity lives in us. And we in the Trinity.
    How did we get the idea that God was distant from us? I suppose it was because many people who spoke to us about God neglected to mention that “God is love”; and because some of them had no love for us either. Love brings near. Fear separates, it makes you want to run away. How terrible that we run away from our very Source like frightened creatures! How terrible that we feel like strangers and exiles from our own home, our abode. Recently I read a tract written by an atheist, who very honestly revealed the source of his atheism. “Why am I sceptical about everyone and everything…? Nobody has ever seriously believed in me, so the starting point must be self-doubt. The best my parents could manage was that kind of hope you hold out for winning the lottery. But barely concealed was a deeper message: they invested in me the same kind of despair that they had about themselves.”
    In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father saw his son “while he was yet a long way off…and was moved to pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.” Then he gave him the best robe and put a ring on his finger. This ring symbolised that he was a true son, and not a servant as he wanted to be. That was Jesus describing God. How then could we ever have imagined that God was distant from us? Even when we try to make ourselves distant from God, God remains close to us. Meister Eckhart, whom I quoted above, wrote, “You need not seek Him here or there, He is no further than the door of your heart; there He stands patiently awaiting whoever is ready to open up and let Him in. No need to call to Him from afar: He can hardly wait for you to open up. He longs for you a thousand times more than you long for Him.”
    ‘Abide’. It is a word you might use to describe what you are doing in meditation: you are abiding, you are making you home in Christ, you are within his mind. You are in God and God is in you. You are in your true home.

Donagh O'Shea


These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.