Sunday, July 19, 2009

Finding Home

This is an excerpt from my new favorite podcast, Speaking of Faith. Krista Tippet, the host of the show, interviews Diane Winston, who teaches media and religion at USC. In the interview they discuss TV, and the way that shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica have become modern-day parables:

Winston: I think those characters on Lost, like the characters in Battlestar Galactica are addressing a fundamental question which is "How do I get home?"

Tippett: Right. Right. And what is the meaning of home?

Winston: And what is the meaning of home? And that's the question of The Odyssey, it's the question of the Exodus story, it's the question of The Wizard of Oz. I think it's a question that all of us have and that's why those characters are so appealing to us, because they mirror some of our questions about it.

When my first child -- my daughter Annabel -- was born, I discovered that I finally possessed something that I never realized I had been missing, but that I had been searching for most of my life. A feeling of home.

Not only had I not known it was missing. I hadn't known until I found it that I had been looking for it. It was as if, having received this incredibly precious gift, I suddenly became conscious of my prior lack, like receiving the answer for a question that I hadn't known I was asking. It was kind of like that feeling I sometimes get when leaving the house -- that I've forgotten something, but I don't know what it is, and I wait by the door until it hits me that I'm missing my keys, or my wallet, or something else, only I'd been having that feeling for almost thirty years and had learned how to completely ignore it. But, all at once, there I was, holding my beautiful girl in my arms, and I knew two things: 1) that because of my parents' divorce, I had felt homeless ever since I was 11 years old, and 2) with the birth of my new family, I was finally home.

It seems to me that the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of home?” has two components. The first part of the answer, I believe, is that home is other people. In my case, that means, primarily, my wife, Allison, and my two kids. When I am weary and wasted from my engagement with the world, it is Allison I need to get to in order to find rest and get oriented again. The night of her emergency surgery when I thought that I was going to lose her, everything I thought was stable and real flew apart. I remember, the next morning, leaving her still unconscious in the ICU with a breathing tube down her throat and driving home to see my kids. I could barely function and felt like I was losing my mind. I had no idea how I was going to keep going, until the moment I walked in my house and saw my kids. Being with them and knowing they needed me helped me get mentally and emotionally organized again. Being their Dad gave me purpose, focus, determination. Home is other people. My kids were my home and I was theirs.

And home is not just other people in the family. Our neighbors and friends responded to our family crisis with incredible generosity and support. Meals were dropped off, laundry was picked up, snow was shoveled, groceries were bought. Suddenly this little town to which we moved two years prior, and in which I’d always felt a bit of stranger; suddenly this town was our town. Our home.

The first part of the answer addresses being home in the world. The second part of the answer, being home in the universe.

It has always been obvious to me that God exists. I have never been certain about any religion’s particular claim to God, but of his existence I have felt sure. I know that is not the case for others, so I say that as a statement of personal experience, not with the presumption of a definitive truth. But I have never been able to conceive of a random and meaningless universe. For me the frontiers of human knowledge have always been suffused with mystery and not mere void.

I can’t really say why I feel so certain about the existence of God, except to say that I have always felt at home in this life. In my human relationships, I have, at times, felt homeless, lonely, abandoned. But, at a fundamental level, I have rarely felt I was alone. Not 100 percent of the time, of course, but even in my most desperate loneliness, I have carried an almost elemental feeling of belonging. Like the psalmist in the opening of Psalm 90, I can say, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

The early Christians as exemplified by Paul, in his second letter to the Ephesians, experienced their budding religion as a home in God, as “God’s household” built on the foundation of Christ:

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2: 19-21).

But finding a home in God is only the first step, as the next verse reveals: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2: 22). For Paul, a person finds a home in God, so that God can make his home in that person.

I think this is an amazing idea. God wants to make a dwelling for himself in human beings. Maybe -- just as my kids and I needed each other to hold on to a sense of home -- maybe there is a mutual need between God and human beings. And why not? Maybe that’s what this whole experiment of humanity is about – a place for God himself to find home. Whatever the case, it seems that whether we are dealing with our relationships with other people or our relationship with God, home is a kind of mutual creation that grows out of the relationship itself.

And maybe the way we find home is by becoming that home for one another.

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