Recently, during a rather difficult day, my wife and I were driving back to our flat, and I looked at her and said, “I want to go home.”
“We’ll be there soon,” she said.
“No,” I said, “my real home.”
This, of course, referred to my desire to return to Michigan, the place whence I came, and the place which will always be “home.” This causes me to think, what is “home,” how do we define it, and what is its function?
Merriam-Webster defines “home” in many ways, among them are as follows:
3 a: a familiar or usual setting : congenial environment; also: the focus of one’s domestic attention <home is where the heart is> b: habitat
4 a: a place of origin <salmon returning to their home to spawn>; also: one’s own country <having troubles at home and abroad>
–(Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., ad loc)
Simon & Garfunkel, in their song “Homeward Bound” give a different explanation of the concept of home:
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me
There are also oft-repeated proverbs such as, “home is where the heart is” or “home is where you hang your hat.”
Throughout scripture, we are able to see the importance of home for the ancient Israelites. Their whole faith was grounded in their home, in the promised land, “See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them'” (Deuteronomy 1:8, NRSV). The worst thing that could happen to them, then, is to be taken away from their home.
When I think of my own life, I have lived at a handful of street addresses in a handful of cities in two states, but I only consider that I have one home.
The concept of home is deeper than simply the address, or even the city where one resides.
The ancient Israelites were so attached to the promised land as home, at least in part, because they connect it with God. The land in which they lived was given to them by God, God dwelt in the temple which was physically located in Jerusalem. Being away from home meant being away from God.
Perhaps this was the root of my desire to return home. I felt, and continue to feel, like I could connect with God in a deeper and more real way when I was at home, in Michigan. Of course, there was nothing particular about Michigan that aided me in my desire to connect with God, and there is no reason that I cannot connect with God here.
One of the lessons that we learn in the Old Testament about the exile is that God is not limited to a particular place, but even when we are away from home, even when we are away from the visible signs of God’s presence, even when we feel far from God’s presence, God remains there. God is present with us in exile just as God is present with us at home.
Similarly, rather than working and striving simply to return home, perhaps part of my purpose here is to understand that my home is in God, not any particular geographical location. God is present here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin just as God is present in Holland, Michigan. It is when I can recognize God’s presence here that I can actually live into God’s calling rather than pining for a particular location or municipality.
When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon, this was included:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease (Jeremiah 29:5-6, NRSV).
Those in exile are called to thrive while they are in a foreign land and away from home. The only reason they can thrive, however, is that God continues to be present. There is nothing wrong in desiring to return to one’s own land, but this cannot prevent us from truly living, even when we are away from home.
Perhaps home is where we can experience connection with God, and part of living is to be able to understand that this connection is possible not only in a particular locale, but in any locale. Perhaps part of our journey to see glimpses of the coming reign of God is to understand that God is everywhere, and because of that, our understanding of home is also to be expanded beyond a particular geography.