Oh the Places You’ll Go: Home

Reflections from Dr. Howell

When I travel, I nose out historic homes of historic people, and love to envision life there back in the day: Monet painting at Giverny, Luther the ex-monk with his noisy family in Wittenberg, Churchill aging at Chartwell, Shakespeare as a wee boy in Stratford-on-Avon, Jimmy Carter on the farm in Plains, Martin Luther King sitting with Coretta in the kitchen in Montgomery, Washington surveying his farm at Mt. Vernon – where dressed-up staffers chat with you as if it’s 1798. If you ask where Washington is buried, they look puzzled and declare they saw him just a few minutes ago. This time travel / “you are there” feel is what we hope Bible reading will be like!

Jesus’ childhood home was in Nazareth, an obscure, tiny village, population of maybe 100? It’s fascinating to ponder how Jesus lived nearly 3 decades as a regular guy in a regular place, working with Joseph, doing chores around the house (which was probably a single room), chatting with neighbors. Who knew Jesus was… Jesus? God, through this neighbor, was in the flesh with them in daily life, unnoticed – just as God is with us in our routines at home, in the yard, down the street, shopping, cooking, working, playing a game, taking a nap. Jesus spent only a couple of years as a miracle worker and dazzling teacher. The vast majority of his time was spent simply being. Being with people in what seemed mundane. God’s like that.

Archaeologists have found a house though, not in Nazareth but in Capernaum. A warren of interconnected, single and double room small abodes, were dug up in the 60’s. One of them had plastered walls with Christian graffiti – and the remains of a Byzantine church built on top of it. Clearly this was the home of Peter’s mother-in-law – the house referred to as “home” every time we read “and Jesus was at home.” His home away from home.

You may recall the story in Mark 2: when Jesus was at home, a crowd thronged in to hear him talk. Four guys brought a paralyzed friend on a pallet, but they couldn’t get close. So they climbed onto the roof and “dug through.” Walls were made of stone, but roofs were thatched, branches and packed dirt. Imagine the debris crashing down on Jesus and those jammed in near him inside! They lowered the paralytic – and Jesus healed him. Why? “He saw their faith.” Not the paralytic’s faith, but the faith of the 4 friends! We believe together, and it blesses others.

St. Francis left his comfortable childhood home in Assisi and lived largely out of doors, down in the valley on a pig farm where lepers roamed. He chose to make his home among the poor – to serve them but also to feel closer to Jesus, who relinquished the comforts of heaven to make his home down here among us, and especially among the poor and untouchables.

I have some sentimental attachment to my childhood homes. I’ve driven by all of them, stopped, even visited inside. It’s not reliving memories so much as a hankering for something elusive for all of us: the deep abiding sense of being “home.” In our uprooted society, it’s hard to locate home. You can own a fancy house – but “home” might feel like your grandparents’ old homeplace more than your house. Or you just don’t know where…

Carl Sandburg wrote that Abraham Lincoln never felt at home in any one of the 31 rooms of the White House. Anne Tyler’s novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant tells the story of Ezra Tull inheriting Mrs. Scarlatti’s restaurant, where he’d worked. He renamed it the Homesick Restaurant. Instead of a menu, you’d name what food you were homesick for, and they’d cook it for you. God seems to have fashioned us with this hankering for home, and yet with gnawing sensation that you’re never quite there. We’re not home – not yet, ever.

St. Augustine was right: “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” … which is why we sing “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling: Come home.” “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” I wonder, in the meantime, if we might learn to re-label our sense of restless dislocation. Instead of fretting over it and trying ever hard to feel at home in the world, we understand our un-ease as what God planted in us, sort of a homing device so we will forever seek after God. And while we’re here, find new places to be close to God, unexpected, even uncomfortable places – like that pig farm where Francis found a home.