Back Home Again

Like some of you, I am a transplant to this area. And because ordained ministry can be fairly nomadic, clergy often find ourselves settling for seasons in locations far from where we grew up. Which leads me to think about how we talk about “home.” Is home a place? A person? A feeling? An idea? A dream? Is it something we can taste or smell? How often do we go home?

I’ve also found myself thinking a lot about home as the gut-wrenching images of destruction from the recent earthquake in Haiti and the governmental collapse in Afghanistan have led so many to be displaced from their homes and neighborhoods, seeking safety and shelter in faraway places. Where is home for them now?

Home is certainly a place, in my mind, but it is mostly a memory, attached with scents and sounds, images and emotions.

The wonderful Kentucky poet, Wendell Berry, writes,

However long I’ve stayed away,
coming home is resurrection. The man
who has been gone comes back to his place
As he would come naked and cold
into his own clothes. And they
are here, the known beloved: family,
neighbors obliging and dear. The dead,
too, denying their graves, haunt
the places they were known in and knew
field and barn, riverbank and woods.
The familiar animals are all here.

For me at least, Berry hits the mark. Every time I return to my family farm, “coming home is resurrection.” As I look out onto rolling fields, place my hand on the rusting sides of an old John Deere, or stand in the kitchen and smell the warm scents of pumpkin and cinnamon, I am reminded of all the folks who made up my early years, both those who left the area long ago, and those who rest in peace in nearby churchyards. Sometimes though, I don’t need to head west to encounter home.

Charlie and Mrs. BlacketterWhile it’s now been 30 years since I was a student in Mrs. Tessa Blackketter’s first-grade class, my fondness for her has never ceased. In our small town, she’s kept in touch with my mom concerning my own comings and goings. Yet imagine my surprise when I looked out into the pews last Sunday and saw her face, here in our Sanctuary, partially obscured by a mask. Her eyes crinkled up into a smile that promptly shed her anonymity. In her travels in the region, she had purposely made a trip to BMPC that morning to see and surprise me. Recounting it later, it’s been many years since I last saw her. In an instant though, I was back home again. She was just as kind, funny, thoughtful and gentle as I remember her.

After worship I had the particular joy of introducing my own incoming first grader to my beloved first-grade teacher. Thank God for serendipitous symmetry.

Sometimes, in the most surprising ways, home travels to us.