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Finding Our Home

2010 September 15
by Julie Clawson

The themes of exile and home have permeated my life in recent weeks. From my experiences in the classroom and church, to encounters in song and film, this idea that we all are seeking to find where we truly belong has been a common theme. Like the Israelites who hung their harps by the rivers of Babylon and wept for their loss of home, humanity is generally assumed to be in exile in our fallen world. There is the sense that we have lost something or that we are not as we were meant to be. The desire to be released from this exile saturates our expressions of cultural longing. But there is a wide range of ideas regarding what it means to put an end to exile and find our true home. For many finding that home requires looking to either the past or the future, but I have to wonder if the solution might be closer than we think.

On one hand the desire to escape exile produces romantic notions that promote a sense of nostalgia. The idea is that we are trying to get back to something – trying to return to our true home so to speak. Like the Israelites in Babylon, we define ourselves by what we have lost and seek constantly to regain it. Like Wordsworth some assert that heaven lies about humanity in our infancy, but that “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” taking us away “from God, who is our home.” This is a longing for the garden, for the innocence that defined humanity once upon a time. There is a sense that if we could just get back to where we began all would be right with the world. All the knowledge, and civilization, and development of humankind is but a distraction pulling us further and further away from where some feel we are meant to be. Our true home is in a fixed place and it is to that place that we must return. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, some conclude that “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!” All the adventures we undertake and the learning we acquire serve simply as reminders of what has been lost that we are to long to return to.

But returning to the innocence of infancy, to our childhood home, never truly satisfies for the simply reason that that home no longer exists – we can never fully return. We have been changed with knowledge – exile has altered our very being. So for some the answer to our altered condition is to shift that longing from the fixed place we came from to a fixed place where we are going. Call it Heaven or the New Jerusalem or even the sweet by and by, it is a longing for a future time when all will be right in the world and we will finally be where we belong. As some sing, “some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away; To a home on God’s celestial shore.” It is a hope to escape our exile with a future reward of home and belonging. Our life now will pass away; all its trials and tribulations vanish once we fly away to where we are supposed to be (which obviously isn’t where we are now).

My issue with both the longing for a lost or a future home is that they deny our process of becoming. When we escape the mundane confines of the world of our exile, these theories have us leaving behind the process that shaped us into who we are. Our journey of becoming who God created us to be is erased in one magical moment of arriving at our final permanent destination. But in truth, just as we can never truly go back, we can also never fully arrive. In searching for this place called home – in ending an imposed exile – there seems to be a need for constant movement. As we serve our purpose of reflecting the image of God, that reflection will always expand and change but never merge. We won’t ever become God, but instead constantly journey towards God. It’s like how C.S. Lewis presents the afterlife in both The Great Divorce and The Last Battle – we must always be moving further in and further up, unceasingly discovering that each moment is “only the beginning of the true story, which goes on forever, and in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Even in exile we are on this journey, which begs the question if we are actually truly in exile. But there is no denying our broken world; we all have an innate knowledge that there is some other place of belonging to be longed for. What makes all the difference is that even in a world fallen away from God, God is still present. There is no need to return to God or to await God, but to find God and discover in God where we belong. If God is with us and we are journeying to God, it implies that we are constantly both dwelling in and moving towards our true home. We are already part of that continuing story that goes on forever. As the poet R.S. Thomas writes, “Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.” We find our home in the moment even as we seek to become something more than who we are in that moment. This places our home in the present, but assures that it is never static. To claim such a static home would be to pitch our tent in Babylon and embrace exile apart from the transforming work of God. The Kingdom is here and now, but it is never just here and now. We must always be seeking God as we make our home in God.

This idea of finding our true home in our present incarnation as image-bearers who continuously seek after God is, I think, why the Tolkien quote, “Not all those who wander are lost” resonates with so many of us (as did the ending of Lost). We know that we can never deny who we are to return to some past home, nor does it make sense to long for some happily-ever-after where the adventure abruptly ends. There is always more to ahead, more to discover, more to become. Not all those who wander are in exile, we have found our true home in the very act of seeking that home, or (to paraphrase U2) we can’t say where we’re going but we know we’re going home.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. Erica permalink
    September 15, 2010

    Are you familiar with Daniel Erlander’s work? If not, you should check out his beautifully illustrated and poignantly written book, “Manna and Mercy.” This work is a narrative of the whole story of scripture, highlighting the themes of humans’ relentless pursuit of manna and God’s relentless mercy. In it, he addresses the idea of “home” as it relates to the Israelites’ journey as well as our longing.
    You can check it out at danielerlander.com

  2. September 15, 2010

    This resonated very deeply with me. Thank you.

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