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A long way from home

Rector's Blog

A long way from home

StNicholas Goulburn

 

Proverbs 13:12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life’.

Romans 8:26

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

 

Are you like me in scrambling for words at times? Words not only describe how we feel, they also distinctly shape how we understand our feelings. As complex emotional beings, we need terminology for fear and self-doubt, longing and desire. In short, we must be taught to explain ourselves to ourselves as well as to others.

Homesickness is one such word that seems inadequate. Whether it is Aborigines who died when taken from their country in the European settlement or the Israelites who were told to sing their songs in the Babylonian exile (see Psalm 137) homesick patients experience symptoms of depression and fatigue. They also suffer physical ailments. In some cases the Aborigines refused to eat, growing so weak as to eventually die. They were said to die of ‘Nostalgia”.

Our Oldest Desire

Nostalgia may have disappeared from our medical dictionaries, but we haven’t cured the ache for home. To be human is to know the grief of some paradise lost. Each of us—however happily settled—suffers a foreboding sense of rupture, as if we’ve been cut off from some hidden source of happiness.

We’re not unlike Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who parts from his uncle upon arriving in Canaan. When given first pick of the land, without any living memory of Eden, Lot scans the horizon and settles in the well-watered Jordan Valley because it bears resemblance to “the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Lot suffered nostalgia­­—sickness of [a lost] country.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

Biblical words related to home can denote physical dwelling, family household, material possessions, and geographical and social connections. But these words only hint at the emotional dimensions of the word ‘home’. ‘Home’means more than bricks and mortar. In part, its walls are safety, its windows, welcome. Provided there’s intimacy and a sense of belonging, a home can be made in almost any place.

Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.

 

Common to Western literature is the longing for home. It understands that ‘home’ is the place for being recognized, received and remembered.

This morning I took Mrs Alsop’s funeral. Funerals are a wakeup call to our mortality. In the face of death, home, as perceived stability, is one hedge against deaths terror. We read John 14:1-6 which reminds us Christ has prepared a place- a home for us. We also read 1 Corinthians 15:42-58 which speaks of how reveille will sound and the dead shall be raised. Death will not sting or be victorious. 

And so we long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace and it will be our last. We’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. As writer Julian Barnes put it in his novel Nothing to Be Frightened Of, we live with “the vicious awareness that this is a rented world.” The grass withers, and the flowers fade: Ours is an impermanent life. At the very least, home is a steadying consolation when the lights go out.

The great novels are a powerful literary witness to human nostalgia. The world’s greatest writers give voice to our inexorable grief at lostness and our irrepressible joy at being found.

Homelessness—whether physical or spiritual—is the terror of the elements and the threat of an angry sky. Home is the dry place we’re all searching for. Humans need home.

In a very real sense, then, homesickness is health.

The biblical narrative begins and ends at home. From the garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem, we’re hardwired for place and for permanence, for rest and refuge, for presence and protection. We long for home because welcome was our first gift of grace, and it will be our last. The setting of our first home and our last home testify to the nature of the embodied story God is writing in human history.

Because God’s story begins in a garden and ends in a city, our sense of place isn’t incidental to Christian hope, just as bodies aren’t incidental to salvation. God will resurrect our bodies, and he will—finally—bring us home.

From Genesis to Revelation we learn that God in and through Christ will never leave any of his children to homelessness.