“Longing for Home”
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Revelation 21: 1-7
One of the books I return to again and again, especially when I am wrestling with discouragement, is Andre Dubus’s book of essays entitled Meditations from a Movable Chair.
Dubus was a fine writer. Then one night he got out of his car to help some people whose car had broken down, and another car swerved and hit him. He lost one leg and the use of the other and spent the rest of his life in a wheel chair.
He was always a good writer. After his accident he became a powerful writer.
In one of the essays in Meditations from a Movable Chair, Dubus talks about going to mass one Wednesday morning. After mass he exercised by doing laps around the church parking lot pushing his wheel chair.
As he was exercising he noticed a man walking toward the church on the sidewalk. The man was a bit disheveled. Dubus says he got the feeling the man didn’t work in an office. The man was glaring, he said, and then he raised his hand and made an obscene gesture toward the church and yelled an obscenity at God.
He did this a second time and third time. And then he walked past the church his hand held high making the gesture toward the church the entire time it took him to pass it.
At the conclusion of telling this story, Dubus writes about the man making an obscene gesture and cursing God: “On that morning under a blue November sky, it was beautiful to see and hear such belief.”[i]
You get a sense that Andre Dubus was almost envious of the man…envious of the intensity of the man’s belief.
I’ve pondered the meaning of Dubus’ comment. This is what I’ve come to – it is perhaps easier to believe in a God even if you are full of rage toward that God than to have to live with the dreadful suspicion that all of the things that happen to us in life have no ultimate meaning, direction, purpose, or sense. It is perhaps easier to feel as if you have a heavenly parent even if you are furious toward that parent than to feel as if you are ultimately alone. Perhaps it is easier to feel that you belong to a dysfunctional spiritual family than to have a sense that you don’t belong at all.
Home is where you have a sense of belonging. It is not just a house or an apartment or a space. Fred Buechner says that home is “a place where you feel you belong and which in some sense belongs to you, a place where you feel that all is somehow ultimately well even if things aren’t going all that well at any given moment.”[ii]
The old-time Methodists I grew up with believed that earth is not our home. They believed that heaven is our true home and life on earth is a temporary sojourn – a journey toward home.
Another way of saying this is to say that our experiences of home in this life are sacramental. Our homes, insofar as they are really home for us, are tastes of a much deeper reality of home. Our sense of belonging is a taste of a much deeper belonging which we sense both eludes us and awaits us. Our sense of well-being is the hint of a deeper well-being beyond our full experience.
We can never really be fully at home here because there is too much that doesn’t make sense. There is too much that seems meaningless. There is too much that seems unfair.
I was talking to someone recently who has a family member struggling with an illness. “I know I am not supposed to feel this way,” she said, “but it just seems so unfair.”
I think this is why Andre Dubus was envious of the man making obscene gestures at God. Better to have a firm belief that there is an ultimate direction and meaning, even if you are furious about your place in it, than to be plagued by the nagging suspicion that all of this is just random and arbitrary.
In the book of Revelation, heaven is not someplace else. In Revelation the imagery is not that we leave earth and are transported to some other place called heaven. The image is that there is a new heaven and a new earth, and in the new heaven and earth is a new Jerusalem, a new holy city.
The holy city is our true home because it is God’s home. “God will dwell with [us] as [our] God and [we] will be [God’s] people. Death will be no more: mourning, crying and pain will be no more.” (Rev. 21: 3-4)
It is our true home because all of the disappointments and injustices and hardships and pains and unfairness will be reconciled. We will be able to live at peace with well-being instead of always feeling that things are not quite right, not quite fair, not quite good.
Home here is sacramental. It is a taste of being at home with God.
This means that allowing people to be homeless is the spiritual equivalent of denying people access to the communion table or denying them baptism. It denies them a taste, a sensing, of the divine, the heavenly, the eternal.
Ministry with and on behalf of the homeless is spiritual work. It is priestly. It is like consecrating and serving Communion.
Someone chided me recently, and quite rightly so, for not mentioning Susanna Wesley House when I was talking about other ministries that Foundry people do on behalf of homeless people. Susanna Wesley House is a transitional home that Foundry members and friends operate for women on their way to permanent housing.
me think of the many ministries Foundry is involved in that have to do with “home.”
We’ve talked about our efforts with WIN to help create supportive housing for
the most chronically homeless people in
I think that we are drawn to ministries with the homeless because home is a sacrament, an expression of our hope that there is an ultimate sense and meaning to all the things that happen to us and those we love along the way, a home where God, God’s own self, will be with us and will wipe the tears from our eyes and death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Partly I thought about Andre Dubus’s story of the man cursing God because I passed a tall thin man on the sidewalk this week. He was disheveled and ill-dressed. He was carrying a big plastic bag of prescriptions, and as he walked past me he was holding his head and saying, “Oh no, not this episode again.” He was saying it with unbelievable anguish in this voice over and over, “Oh no, not this episode again,” as though there were certain episodes that ran through his head that he couldn’t control and found agonizing.
I’ve been thinking about him and praying for him all week. There are those who cannot be at home in their own minds. Perhaps none of us are fully at home in our own minds…or in our own bodies.
There are people who, for various reasons, have little experience of home in this life, little sense of belonging or of any place that truly belongs to them, little sense of well-being or that things will ultimately be well.
If we have had a taste of home, may we find a way to share it. May we find a way to believe that there is a holy city where we will all belong to God and each other and God and each other will belong to us.