“Home:” It’s a word that resonates in our hearts. But is it just a place? - a house? - or is it more than that? What is it that makes us feel at home in one place and not another? I’ve thought about that a lot since moving clear across the country.
I thought about it this week as I sat at Larry Shafer’s bedside in the home he had lived in for many years, a place where many of you passed through to visit with Larry one last time and be there for the family.
Where is home? I invited all of you to chime in on this question, and your responses hit home for me and I hope will for many of you.
Where is home? Patrick O’Reilly shed some light on the subject. “On the way back to the States from the Peace Corps I stopped at the farmhouse where my father was born; His youngest brother, Kevin and wife, Claire lived there with their two sons, and my aged grandmother. Some time later, I received a card from Claire, asking – when was I coming home. There was such warmth in that simple phase – When are you coming home?
To many Irish and others, home is the land and this was the family land. That note tied me to a sense of place in my life. And it will always be home; but not all of home. For to me home is a place of family, and now we have family and friends-like-family in many places and over many times. They have taken us in, they have cared about us, they graciously share their lives with us. Home is to be with folks who you care about and who care for you. Who don't judge, but will – if needed criticize . Who will say in different ways – when are you coming home, knowing that with them we are home.
And then I thought of the “homeless” not just those who have no place of their own, but who have no one to share their life with - they are the homeless.”
Jim: Can’t help but hear the “Cheers” TV show theme song—“where everybody knows your name.” Feeling at home happens when you feel deeply known and/or accepted. Able to relax and be yourself. Let go of self-consciousness. You feel in harmony with where you are and the people around you.
Jen: Home is anywhere I am loved. Home is when I am with groups of my women friends, at the homes of those I have known many years and who know me. Home is my own home when I am at peace with life.
Miriam: I feel most at home in my own home in Newton where we have lived for over 35 years and where we raised our two sons. I also used to feel at home in my aunt's house in NJ. That was the place for all big family gatherings (we called them "cousin's parties") for many years - it was the place that the extended family stayed connected and she was the primary glue. My aunt died last year at age 93 and her house has now been sold. I feel a sense of loss since I know that that type or level of coming together won't be able to be replicated.
Jen: Being at home can be a feeling that comes in a place where you have roots—if your time there was positive and sustaining. Tastes, sounds, sights, touch, smells—these can all trigger memories that bring a visceral sense of being at home.
Jim: My fondest memory of "home" is a certain rainy day in Guyana. It would be the equivalent of a snow day. I was about 5 or 6 years old. It rained all night into the morning. My mom kept us in. And as a special treat she cooked mashed potatoes with stew beef and gravy. Even today, decades later, my impulse on a snowy day is to cook some kind of food that contains gravy and mashed potatoes. But home is not only our house, it is the neighborhood, my friends, and the streets where my teenage girlfriends lived.
Miriam: Home (for me) is difficult to define as my family no longer lives where I grew up and I am a transplant to Boston. For this season of life, home is defined by the community of mothers, church goers, teachers, neighbors and friends who have encircled the lives of my husband and I and our children with care and love and laughter.
Jim: Physical closeness to those you love brings a feeling of being at home.
Jen: However, you can also be somewhere you have never been before and have an uncanny sense of being at home--like the resonance I felt when I first went to Scotland.
Miriam: Feeling of home can be found in certain activities, practices, ways of being. Like feeling at home on a bicycle after many years, feeling at home singing a much loved hymn, or, as a friend of mine said recently after resuming meditation after a hiatus, “I felt so at home.” These activities/practices/ways of being are part of you. When you are doing them, you feel “at home.”
Jim: I find myself most at home in special everyday spaces, doing everyday things, like at the kitchen table on a sunny morning or at my University desk early in the day as I prepare my lecture, or on the floor with a disabled child teaching a parent how to help their child communicate with them. I also feel very at home when I am outdoors. To put a spiritual face on this would be to say that those are the spaces and times when I think God is with me.
Jen: I came to the realization that the only time that I can honestly say I feel at home is while I am praying.
Jim: Home is more a state of mind than anything else.
Miriam: Home is where the heart of my own being can live.
Susan: Thank you readers (they take their seats)
Somewhere between CE 23 and 79, the Roman author and naturalist philosopher Pliny the Elder graced us with the phrase: “Home is where the heart is.” It kept running through my mind this week until I looked up where it came from. (I love the internet!) “Home is where the heart is.” And for me, that’s where God resides.
Scripture often speaks of God as “home.” Psalm 91: “God is my refuge and my fortress.” Martin Luther penned a famous hymn based on that psalm: “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” God is described as a shelter, a comfort, one who accepts us just as we are.
And in Nan Merrill’s beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 84, we are invited to dwell within God’s heart. That is where we will ultimately find our home. She speaks of God as Creator, Love, Beloved, Eternal Lover and Divine Comforter.
Psalm 84 translated by Nan Merrill
How glorious is your dwelling place,
O Loving Creator of the universe,
My soul longs, yes, aches for
the abode of the Beloved;
All that is within me sings for joy
to the living Heart of Love!
Even as the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nesting place,
where its young are raised within
your majestic creation,
You invite us to dwell within
Blessed are they whose hearts are filled
who sing praises to You with
Blessed are they who put their strength
who choose to share the joy and
sorrows of the world.
They do not give way to fear or doubt;
they are quickened by divine
light and power;
they dwell within the peace of
the Most High.
They go from strength to strength and
live with integrity.
O Eternal Lover, hear my prayer;
give ear, O Divine Comforter!
Forgive what is unholy within me;
cleanse me of all my sins!
For a day within the Heart of Love
is more to be desired than
a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a servant in your
than live in riches among
those who know not Love.
For the Beloved is as radiant as the sun,
as strong as a steel shield,
and invites each one to come,
to partake of the Banquet.
Who will accept the goodness of Love?
Who will seek for spiritual
O Loving Creator of the universe,
blessed are all who put their
trust in You!
Oliver Wendall Holmes once said; “Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” He might have been describing the Israelites in the Hebrew Scriptures - the Exodus story of Moses leading them into the desert, searching for that place where God was leading them to make a new home; building the temple in Jerusalem as a house for God, only to have it destroyed by the Babylonians as the Jews were carted off to captivity. Rebuilding it only to have it destroyed by the Romans as the Jews were sent to the far reaches of the known world in diaspora.
It took all of that history for them to realize that God isn’t housed in a temple. God is with them in their everyday lives; in their customs, their traditions, their sacred stories, their songs and prayers passed on from generation to generation.
As far as we know Jesus spent the better part of his adult ministry homeless. He hung out a lot at Peter’s mother- in- laws house, spent time at Martha and Mary’s. In Luke’s account, early in his ministry, he goes to Nazareth, his home town, and after reading scripture and preaching in the synagogue, outraged listeners tried to hurl him off a cliff. He admits: “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
Only once, in Matthew, do we hear him reflect on his homeless status: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus was a Jewish mystic. God was an experiential reality for him, always with him. He made his home wherever he happened to be, and expected his disciples to do likewise. They left family and homes and work to follow him. They found their home with Jesus, wherever that took them.
Looking into the unknown future he reassured them in John 14 not to let their hearts be troubled. “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
We make our temporary homes here on this planet, looking for God’s presence in the nooks and crannies of our lives. As Paul tells the Corinthians; “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.” Then we will come home to the unconditional love that is God.
You wrote of finding home in places both familiar and unfamiliar; stimulated by memories, tastes, sounds, sight, touch and smell; in loved ones and relationships; in familiar activities; in the acceptance, love and peace of those around you; in those spaces and times when you feel God’s presence; in those spaces and times where your heart can live and grow.
Isn’t that what we as Christians experience in being part of the Body of Christ? Jesus told us where two or three are gathered, he would be with us. As one of our members wrote: “Eliot has been my church “home” for over 35 years.”
This is our extended family, sitting here in these pews. I heard this expressed over and over again during our gathering after worship last week. Those new to Eliot expressed how they knew as soon as they walked in and worshiped with us that this was their church home. This is where they were feeling God’s presence in their lives. It is a home where the heart of our own beings can live and grow.