Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Where is home?

Some time ago, I was at a weekly meeting held by C4C at UBC, at which the topic of discussion was about 'home'. During the course of the discussion in small groups, two very thought-provoking questions that were raised were the 'what' and 'where' of home - what is home? where exactly is it? Many people in my group talked about how home was with their parents and family, or a familiar environment, where their heart was most comfortable and at peace.

As these ideas and feelings were expressed, I reflected upon my own life and situation, asking the question "What about my state of affairs? Where is home for me?" Although I grew up in a home made by loving and caring parents whom I love intensely, I have effectively been away from home for 10 years now, having left home in '99 when I began my undergraduate degree. Since then, I have effectively lived in seven cities in four countries over the past decade and moved myself and my limited possessions very frequently. Home was wherever I would return to at the end of the day, in the particular city and country that I have lived in during my travels. I saw my parents and sister roughly once every year over the last decade, usually when on vacation from university or during a short stopover in the city they were residing in, while on my way to somewhere else. As the discussion progressed, I thought about how this lifestyle over the past decade has also impacted many of my habits, particularly over the past three years. I had not bought any furniture, deeming it too difficult and cumbersome to deal with when uprooting myself to move. My suitcases became my clothes drawers, and I did not unpack and hang up my clothes until the summer of last year; when I did so for the first time, it seemed almost alien to see them hanging in the built-in closet of my room. I had lived on the simplest level possible, sleeping on the floor in a comforter and without a pillow, only acquiring a bed two years ago after moving to the apartment that I reside in now. Since that time, God has blessed me with a wonderful living environment, repeatedly doing so through other people. All of it has beyond any expectation I have ever had.

Although it was initially interesting as God moved me from east to west, back east and now back to the west for the past few years, I began to feel sick of this modern-day nomadic life over the last year or two. Packing everything I own, moving, unpacking and settling in only to repeat the cycle began to feel sickening, especially as I began to consider the prospect that I might be called to do it once again in the near future. There comes a time in one's life when the heart begins to yearn for a place it can put roots down into and call 'home' with some degree of permanence, somewhere it can look forward to returning to, even if it were to travel elsewhere. I began to feel this ache about three and a half years ago, though it had subsided temporarily in between, only to return once again as I approach the end of my Master's degree and possibly my entire time in academia.

"Where and what is home for me?" Sitting in that small group at C4C @ UBC's weekly meeting and searching for some insight into the matter, a fascinating train of thought began to emerge from my rumination. It began with the recollection of the song 'All I Ever Wanted' from the animated movie 'The Prince of Egypt', depicting the life of Moses. Moses has discovered that he is actually the son of a Hebrew slave, rescued as a baby from a proclaimed infanticide of Hebrew children by the Pharaoh he addresses as 'Father'. Attempting to supress the truth and convince himself otherwise, he sings the following lyrics:

"This is my home
With my father, mother, brother
Oh so noble, oh so strong
Now I am home
Here among my trappings and belongings
I belong
And if anybody doubts it
They couldn't be more wrong

I am a sovereign prince of Egypt
A son of the proud history that's shown
Etched on ev'ry wall
Surely this is all I ever wanted..."

Affirming him in his denial of reality, his 'mother' the Queen joins the song and reinforces what he has believed thus far:

"This is your home, my son
Here the river brought you
And it's here the river meant
To be your home
Now you know the truth, love
Now forget and be content
When the gods send you a blessing
You don't ask why it was sent..."

Moses believed that the truth of what he had seen and taught to call 'home' was indubitable. Reading His story in the book of Genesis, God eventually had to strip away everything he thought was 'home' and show him that his identity as a prince and member of the royal Egyptian house was an illusion. Moses never really had a permanent place he could call 'home' after that. The rest of His life after this rude awakening was spent on one massive journey of wandering with God - exile into Midian; the return to Egypt to free his people and 40 years of wandering the wilderness, following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In effect, Moses' (and indeed, all Israel's) home became wherever the presence of God went; pitching tent and tabernacle wherever His presence stopped, breaking camp and resuming their meandering as God began to move on.

My state of globetrotting has not been too different from that of Moses on his journey with God, the only difference being that I have no illusion of the wonderful home and family that I have been born into. I was struck by the idea that home, then is not a place with parents and family; home is being in the presence of my Heavenly Father and following Him whenever and wherever He summons me to. Without Him, neither I or anyone else has a home; we would repeat the words of Cain as he echoed the curse that God had laid on him for murdering his brother: "...from Your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth..." (Genesis 4:14, ESV). Indeed, without Him we are reduced to more than fugitives and wanderers, for if home and heaven are found in His presence, it is not homelessness, but hell in His absence. 'Home is where the heart is' is reduced to an empty statement if the heart does not find itself following the beckoning of Him that fashioned it to yearn for His presence.

As I reflected on this idea, the words of Christ to His disciples at the Last Supper suddenly presented themselves to me:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also." (John 14: 1-3, ESV)

What a difference presented by the comforting counterperspective of Christ to all that the world calls 'home'! I can almost hear a pleading tone that enters His voice as He says the words "if it were not so, would I have told you...?". Jesus makes a spectacular pronouncement in these sentences which he only reinforces a little while later with the words "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). There was a tremendous silence and emotion that entered my heart as my mind connected the implications of the story of Moses and the comforting words of Christ. Thousands of years apart, yet both addressing the yearning of one's heart for 'home, sweet home'.

Moses tells me that all that this world calls house and home are but illusions without the presence of God; Jesus affirms this with His very first statement to His disciples in John 1 : 35 - 39, "Come and see". Moses by his life testifies that 'home' for the believer becomes following God's summoning; Jesus reinforces this as He called those who listened to Him with the words, "Follow me" and "Come unto me". Moses' dwelling was a symbol of the fleeting nature of this temporal life - a tent. Paul resonated with him thousands of years later in 2 Corinthians 5 : 1- 5. Jesus asks me to trust that He desires me to be with Him forever. in fact, He desires this so much that He is preparing one room of all those in His Father's house for me, just for me. And once He is done, He will personally come and take me there. For He knows that His own home is in the presence of the Father, and I will not truly be at home until I am in His presence as well.

On that great day as the Father stands at Heaven's gates with His Son, welcoming all His children to the place that He has lovingly prepared for them, it will truly be "home, sweet home".

- The Wisdom Seeker