Home By Another Way

The following is my contribution to the 2009 Advent Devotional, “Home By Another Way,” based, loosely, off the Matthew 2.1-12 text, where the Magi return “home by another way.” It’s interesting to re-read this, some three years later, and reflect on how homesickness is an ache that never leaves, and to also feel an accompanying sense of gratitude for the myriad other ways home has found me, and I have found home since then.

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This year [2009] is the seventh consecutive year I have spent Thanksgiving away from my family and away from My Old Kentucky Home. By now, I’m pretty used to it.  And while I’ve had other as-good-as-families and almost-homes to spend the holiday, it never fully assuages the bittersweet homesickness.

Homesickness is a close friend of mine.  I suppose it’s the downside of the vagabond nature of being a student.  I’ve moved around, between school and work, and now hold a little bit of home with me in each place, and leave a little piece of me behind when I leave.  This restless ache is particularly profound inhomesick leaving one home behind and heading into the unknown of the home-yet-to-be.  With every departure from a place and a people that has become home and family comes the echo of questions of the unknown.  Where is home and when will I get there?  Will I even know it if I find it?  Is home a place or is home a people or is home something else entirely found in that peace that passes all understanding?

My life as a perpetual student (going on 24 years now) has given me a collection of homes and families that stretches across the map, but has also inured me to the sense of restlessness.  We all sense this restlessness in the search for feeling at home.  When we move away, our new homes will never feel the same as the comfort of the walls or the streets we leave behind.  A sense of feeling like a stranger in a strange land haunts us to varying degrees, at least for a time.

The Bible is thick with stories of persons and groups of people who were homesick, wandering, and finding home in surprising places. By the last chapters in Isaiah, the Hebrew people had witnessed the destruction of their temple, their beloved city, and had endured fifty years of captivity.  They looked forward with great anticipation finally returning home. I can only imagine the pit of homesickness that must have consumed their stomachs and eaten away their hearts. They could cling to one another in their exile, all the time resting on the promises of God that they would find a new home.  But what happened when they arrived at Jerusalem?  They could not go home again. And as current events show, the battle for the Holy Land has only gotten more hateful and more divided.  Where is the home that God promised?  There is a profound restlessness that longs for the comfort of the words of Isaiah: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered. . . . No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” (Is. 65: 17, 19).

In reflecting on the story of the Magi, I think about the surprising ways that home finds us.  Often in the midst of our restlessness, in the midst of our searching, in the midst of “I-won’t-be-here-long” and “just-for-a-bit” we find ourselves at home.  We find persons and places along our journey that serve, for a time, as a resting place for our weary, questioning, and restless bodies, souls, and spirits.  Out of the sense of already-but-not-yet, often without realizing it, and without planning it, we find ourselves at home.

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