‘I can lie down anywhere in this universe bathed around by my own Father’s Spirit. The very universe has come to seem so homey.’
‘Make your home in me as I make mine in you’
Finding our way home
Home is a word like no other. Is there any other word that carries with it such a huge burden of expectation and disappointment? Our hearts go out to the ‘home-less’: we speak of ‘making our house into a home’; there is, of course, ‘no place like home’… The hearts longing for ‘home’ in a society where many have never known a stable one and can’t imagine ever owning one, speaks so profoundly to the rootlessness of modern existence.
I can still recall the immense grief that overwhelmed me when we had to sell the farmhouse where I’d lived throughout my childhood. I’d left home many years before but as I helped clear the house and we handed over the keys to another family it felt that I was losing something irreplaceable. I cried as if my heart would break.
Home, for me, was the place of belonging; whenever I’d been away I knew they’d always be a cheerful welcome, friendly smiles, something to eat in the pantry and the faces of those who knew me best and judged me least. Home was a place to just be myself with no need to dress smart or watch my tongue. The furniture was worn and clunky: the bedrooms were unheated and the beds uncomfortable; the food was basic and often straight out of a tin. But everything, even the plastic breakfast bowl or the wonkiest chair, had a value that money couldn’t buy as they were associated with all that I held dear.
To recapture the depth of yearning that so many attach to the reality or the dream of the childhood home is something that many adults pursue all their lives. But what if our ‘best-possible-childhood-home’ is merely a dim reflection of what God intends for us to experience in our relationship with the earth, our planetary home? As Frank Laubach puts it: “I can lie down anywhere in this universe bathed around by my own Father’s Spirit. The very universe has come to seem so homey.” If home is about where we feel loved and valued; if it’s about the felt presence of what Francis Thompson calls a ‘tremendous lover’, then anywhere we find ourselves can become just like home.
Of endings and beginnings
What often drives our behaviour is our eschatology: how we think things will end. Our indifference towards the physical can be driven by an otherworldly notion of the life-to-come; a vision of anticipated tedium with harps and clouds rather than something exhilarating and mind-blowing involving snowboards and mountains. This is exasperated by the heresy of believing the universe will end in an inferno rather than being renewed and perfected. Alternatively, if we think that this life is all there is, then its ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ as Robert Herrick puts it, or the modern equivalent, the bucket list. There’s no time to lose, so let’s eat, drink and go on the Inca trail for tomorrow we die.
Of no less significance are our beliefs about origins. If we believe that we are merely accidents, a product of random genetic mutations and natural selection, then futility is hard-wired into the fabric of the universe. If we are, according to the new atheists, merely highly developed apes then it’s no surprise if we end up behaving like our nearest primate relatives. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as beloved children doted on by our heavenly father, the spitting image of his divine likeness with all the implications of mind-boggling significance, we may well sense that these bodies and the physical world they inhabit have an inherent dignity and treat them accordingly.
Being distracted back to life
Sometimes we need to allow the simple and irreducible physicality that surrounds us to shake us out of our torpor. Iris Murdoch writes:
‘I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful frame of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment, everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to the thinking of the other matter it seems less important’.
It could be a gust of wind, a child’s laughter or the silhouette of a tree against a wintry sky. Throughout the day we need solid doses of unyielding distraction: our feet walking on soft grass, a vigorous run pounding the pavement, hands feeling the texture of a tree trunk, or our hair soaked in a shower. Sometimes all we need is a simple meal, prepared thoughtfully with real ingredients, eaten without haste with all the textures and flavours deliberately savoured. Too much time spent in our heads or at our screens and our bodies are crying out for the sensory; if they don’t get it they have ways of making sure they get heard.
Finding home in your skin
A sure sign of growing up spiritually is what Frank Laubach refers to as feeling ‘homey’ in the universe. I started life with a slightly perverse notion of, as the old hymn goes, ‘this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through’ which is, frankly, Platonism not Christianity. I should have known better. The Christian faith is the most materialistic of the world religions: in Christ, God plunged bodily into our physicality and the whole shebang is now soaked with the sacred.
Greg Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, offers a great suggestion for helping us discover the homeliness of the physical. He encourages us to become more aware of how our bodies are always being supported by something physical whether it is a chair, the ground or our beds. “Allow yourself”, he writes, “to rest in that support and realise that every point of contact reflects the truth that you are held in existence each and every moment by the perfect love of God.” As we pause throughout the day and become of aware of those connections we can transform the physical sensations into a deeper awareness of the presence and the love of God.
Wherever I lay my hat….
It is a wonderful gift to step outside of your house and still feel like you’re home, only more so. The One who is both beyond and within and loves us indiscriminately is in the house and invites us to put our feet up and make ourselves at home. Its no coincidence that the word ‘oikos’ from which we get the word ‘ecosystem’ means home in Greek. When, at every place I find myself, at any moment of the day, I can learn to recognise that familiar face, receive that welcoming smile and feel the strong arms of that heartfelt embrace, I will have found my true home in the house of my Father.