Homeward Bound

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Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord . . . . (Psalm 84:1-2)

“I want to go home” is not just the plaintive cry of kindergarten students on the first day of school; it is the longing of every person who pays attention to his or her heart. For some, nothing is better than going home. Our memories of home grow sweeter as the years pass. Wherever we are never quite lives up to where we once were.

For others, going home is painful. We have scars that will not heal and memories we would like to forget. We hope that Thomas Wolfe is right, that we can’t go home again, because home is the last place we want to go.

For most, home is both a blessing and a curse. Our memories are a source of comfort as well as anger, joy as well as sadness. We don’t want to go home to stay, but we hope that home will always be there for us.

When people ask where I’m from, I say “Mississippi” gladly, because Mississippi is a nice place to be from. Much of what is Mississippi encourages mixed emotions: red clay, kudzu, Southern belles, steel magnolias, sweet potatoes, okra, Ole Miss, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Brett Favre, “Boycott Disney” bumper stickers, “Don’t Blame Me I Voted for Goldwater” bumper stickers, grocery stores with real names like “Piggly Wiggly” and “Jitney Jungle,” gas stations where people ask, “Where you headed?” and then, “It won’t take you an hour now that they’ve finished the highway” (which was finished in 1972). And then there’s Elvis, who went to high school with my ninth grade biology teacher. She never forgave herself for not paying any attention to Elvis. More than once, Mrs. Stowers wondered aloud if she could have been the queen of Graceland.

When my family visits my parents, we stay in a house built on the farm my grandparents lived on for more than sixty years. What used to be a barn is east of the house. The wind patterns were not considered when they built the barn, a combination garage and cow stall. The car was parked on one side and the cows were milked on the other. Hay was in the loft over both sides. A big cooler kept the milk and watermelons a degree above frozen. My grandfather was good at milking. He could hit an open mouth from fifteen feet. He tried to teach me to milk, but I was never good at it. I’m not sure what that says about a person. When it was quiet, which was most of the time, the railing in that barn was as good a place to sit as I have ever sat.

My grandparents named several cows after their grandchildren—including one named “Brett.” One evening at dinner, Grandpa asked how my hamburger tasted, and everyone at the table laughed. I didn’t finish my meal after it was explained that I was what was for dinner.

The last time we went for a funeral, my family was welcomed by an assortment of saints and sinners who hugged me, hugged Carol, and hugged, kissed, and pinched the cheeks of my unprepared sons. A few hugged me before they asked who I was. When I answered, “I’m Clarice’s oldest boy,” they hugged me again.

Some of the conversations are in a foreign language I no longer understand: “Brett, we baled three thousand bales last year, round bales, not the little ones. Guess how many acres that took?”

I was lost.

“Take a guess.”

“I really don’t know.”

“Just take a guess.”

“Thirty?”

“Thirty?”

“Did I say thirty? I meant to say three hundred. Three thousand?”

Mississippi is a good place to call home because when the prodigals return, we hope that folks will recognize that we don’t quite fit in. At the same time, we want to feel like we never left.

We want to go home to the home with the welcome mat on the porch and the home that we know only by its absence, home where there are dirty dishes in the sink and home that we have never even visited, home where the dog is not allowed on the couch and home where the deer and the antelope play, home sweet home, sweet home Alabama, your Old Kentucky home, home where the country roads take you, home where your homeboys hung long before you knew they were homeboys, where charity begins, where the home fires are burning, where the chickens come to roost, and where the angels are coming for to carry you. Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home. Even if it is the home we know only by our longing.

Three thousand years ago, the Hebrew people sang about longing for home. About twenty of the psalms are traveling songs sung to lift people’s spirits and to pass the time as worshipers made their way to the temple. Psalm 84 was their version of “one hundred bottles of beer on the wall.”

They sang, “God, what a lovely home, you have. No place is as gorgeous as any place where you dwell.”

They felt most at home in the temple with its feasting, dancing, and celebrating. The Israelites sang that one day at home with God is better than a thousand on the beaches of a Greek island.

“O God, you are our home,” they sang. “We long to be at home with you. Like swallows and sparrows yearn for a nest, we hope for a shelter, a refuge, a home with God.”

We understand this longing. We have restless hearts. Something is unfinished in us. Sometimes we feel like we’re not at home in our hometown, our family, even our own skin. Our stories are the search for a home we have never seen, for a marvelous reality just out of reach.

Though it doesn’t seem like it, the homesickness we feel is a gift of God, because it helps us recognize the occasional, obscure glimpses of home. C. S. Lewis wrote,

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to find the place where all the beauty came from . . . . At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in. (Deborah Smith Douglas, “C. S. Lewis and Our Longing for Home” Weavings [July/August 2000]: 11, 16)

Every once in a while, for just a moment, we come close to finding our home far away. Our search for home leads us to blessed people, holy places, and sacred moments, when we are with the people we love, when we glimpse home in the goodness of others, when we are alone listening to the silence, and when we close our eyes and feel God’s welcoming grace and give ourselves again to hope.

The home for which our weary hearts long is God. Nothing else will make us feel completely at home. Someday our longing for home will be satisfied. We will be safely and forever at home with God.

Jesus, who spent his life homesick for God, set the table. Ours is a pilgrim existence, but by faith we travel hopefully, wander confidently, let go of where we are in favor of where we can go, welcome others on the journey, eat the bread of life, and drink the cup of grace, understanding that the table celebrates our eternal home with God.

time_for_supper_cvrThis post originally appeared in Time for Supper: Invitations to Christ’s Table by Brett Younger.

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