The motto of Fr. Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, was, “Always go forward, never turn back.”
That may have been good advice for a missionary, but you can’t apply it to the spiritual life.
This is Lent, a season celebrated by most Christians, and its theme we hear proclaimed by the prophet Joel:
…Return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
Or we hear the call to “conversion,” which means, literally, to “turn around.” Make a 180.
The title of Book II of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is “A Twitch upon the Thread.” It comes from a line in a Father Brown book by G. K. Chesterton which Lady Marchmain reads to the family. Cordelia reminds Charles of it when discussing the wanderings of her family:
…[T]he family haven’t been very constant, have they? There’s [Papa] gone and Sebastian gone and Julia gone. But God won’t let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story Mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk–I mean the bad evening. Father Brown said something like “I caught him,” (the thief) “with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
Waugh uses Chesterton’s image as a metaphor for God’s patient way with us. We are hooked, and he lets us “wander to the ends of the world,” but will bring us “back with a twitch upon the thread.”
That’s the story of Jonah, isn’t it? He sought to flee to the ends of the world. God brought him back.
It’s the story Francis Thompson narrates in his poem, “The Hound of Heaven“:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
In this Lenten season, don’t be afraid to invite someone to return. You never know what little word or action will be the “twitch upon the thread” that will bring the wanderer home.