Dear Fox, old friend, thus we have come to the end of the road that we were to go together. My tale is finished--and so farewell. But before I go, I have just one more thing to tell you: Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying: "To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth----Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, towards which the conscience of the world is tending--a wind is rising, and the rivers flow."You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe
In this increasingly mobile society, we do a lot of leaving home. And in leaving home, we attempt both to define and find home. In my own life, I left home at 17 to go to college and went home most summers. But by 22 I never spent much more than a week at a time there, because, like Thomas Wolfe, I also found: you can’t go home again. Sometimes it is because you grow, sometimes because it shrinks, sometimes both you and home change. Sometimes you may discover that if “home is not where you live but where they understand you” (~Christian Morgenstern), then you realize that they don’t or possibly never did understand you. That is most likely why I live where I do, and my blood relatives live where they do. I love them, and while love in many cases may not require being understood, being home does.
I acknowledge in myself a strong nesting instinct: I stay in jobs a long time, and in houses and apartments for 7-10 years at a stretch. Home is where you make it your own place, perhaps? Still I’ve left jobs and moved out of houses and they are no longer home either. Home for me has also been a function of community, not just of blood. “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” (~Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man) When I started seminary, one of the things that I could not quite envision about the call to ministry was leaving my church home. This past year in my field education internship, I missed those familiar people and ways of doing things, and I brought a lot of those familiar things to my internship church as gifts and ways of being connected home. Somehow though on the last Sunday I knew that this community where I’d been a student pastor also held a piece of my heart in its care. Is that also home?
This past Sunday after finishing my internship I came back to my “home” church. It was a joyful, hug-full and sobering experience. I spent the afternoon looking up the quotes about “you can’t go home again” and creating a play list of music (see below) that reflected my very mixed feelings. Almost home, you can’t go home again in jazz, country, R&B, rock, gonna feel like heaven when we’re home, sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make it home again …
from The Odeon by Neil Harding MacAlister
Somewhere between the smiles and tears
A childhood gets misplaced;
The landmarks of our younger years,
Torn down without a trace.
Nostalgic hearts seek what is gone,
She gently chides, the curtain's drawn;
The show is over. Run along.
You can't go home again.
Growing in faith and following our call is a journey that takes us away from home and to home again. The tricky part is that those instances of home may not be the same. Thomas Wolfe’s eloquent description of that growth: leaving the life, friends, home you love for greater knowing, learning, and a new place “more kind than home, more large than earth” is poignant and true. I am not the same person after this year of learning and claiming my call, and while I was gone the folks and church at home changed too.
What it teaches us, this going from and coming back to home, is that home is really something we carry within us. “Peace - that was the other name for home.” (~Kathleen Norris) When we pray, for example, we welcome God into the world, and God in turn welcomes us home, into and as ourselves, both fully inward and in the world. Home then is not the destination or the building, or even the people, but the journey, the learning, the knowing, the centeredness, the peace we come to. Hopefully, the place we rest our head, the people with whom we live, work and/or worship do support that for each of us, and sometimes we call what we know there “home,” but it is really what we move toward, both inside and outside ourselves.
Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration. ~Charles Dickens
You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right. ~Maya Angelou