A recent trip caused me to ponder the question, can we really go home? I suppose the standard answer is yes. I don’t disagree with this answer. I am sure many times I returned to the place I lived and it was, indeed, going home. It is easy to think about my college days. I went off to college, but occasionally went back home. And it was home, as I would understand that. Of course, this asks for a definition of “home.”
That is a simple question, but it may not be as easy to answer as it would seem. Before attempting a definition of home, let me offer a different scenario. That scenario has a person going back to the place where he or she once lived. That is not automatically an experience of going home. This is what I believe has happened to me. It is not necessarily sad; for sure, it is not bad. But it is a little surprising. Let me explain.
I am sure if we could assemble a group of people in a room, we could come up with a fairly solid definition of “home.” It probably does include the house---or maybe apartment or condo. The physical place is likely a key in many instances. Of course, it is just a place…but it becomes a very special place.
I remember my farm days as a kid. It was not unusual to hear older farmers talk about some particular farm as “the old Goodrich home place” or something like that. Even if someone not named Goodrich now lived there, it still had to old connection to the Goodrich family. There was a historical root that was connected to the Goodrich family and that was obviously not going to be easily changed.
I have begun to think about what makes home “home?” It might be the physical place---the actual house. But it certainly is more than that. Two other key aspects constitute home. A crucial element of “home” is relationship. I am convinced home is a web of relationships. The easiest kind of relationship is to point to the connections among the members living together in a place---their “home.” It could be husband and wife. You can complicate the web of relationships by throwing in a kid or some kids. Just think of the complexity of relationships if you have Mom, Dad, and two kids. Try drawing it on paper.
One line from me to Dad; another line from me to Mom. And a third line from me to my sibling. It is not so simple to assume that my line to my Dad is the same as his line to me. In fact, I am sure his line to me is very different. He is a different person; he is a different age and experiences. And then, the other lines between the four people get intricate and complicated.
So “home” is this web of relationships. As long as those relationships are intact, one can, indeed, “go home.” Of course, this web of relationships is not static. It evolves as the people in the web evolve. But it is evolution. Babies do not become sixteen year olds over night! But if the web of relationship is disturbed by something, then the idea of “home” is imperiled.
Divorce and all sorts of things imperil the web of relationships. If the peril is threatening enough, then “home” is significantly affected and “going home” might not be easy. In fact, it might become impossible. We can always go back to the same place; but it might not be home any more.
A second feature of the definition of “home” is context. I am sure we all form some kind of context for our understanding of “home.” The context is likely fairly complex. It includes the building, the people, the furniture, the dog, etc. As long as the context remains relatively in place, we can always “go home.” But when the context changes, “home” is significantly imperiled. I learned this when my parents died. I could go back to the place where they lived. I could sit in Dad’s chair. But the context had been radically altered. It really was not “home” any more.
It might not seem like this is a spiritual topic at all. But I argue it really is. “Home” has been a favorite image for various spiritual traditions. Some traditions offer a kind of spiritual home to pilgrims in this life. It could be the local church or temple. Again I recall fondly Quakers talking about their “home meeting,” meaning their local congregations. That typically meant the local meetinghouse (church building). But it also meant the web of relationships and the context that made the congregation their “home meeting.”
Sometimes in religious traditions, “home” becomes a future possibility. It becomes tantamount to going to heaven. Read the obituaries and you will see. You can read that Lucille so and so died and has gone to her “heavenly home” to be with God. Once more, there is a context and a web of relationship that is being affirmed. Lucille now has it made! She is home-home!!
So, can we “go home?” It depends. It depends on the context and the web of relationships. My take away is to make sure I am working on building a “home” wherever I am. Am I forming relationships that lead to home making? An I cultivating spiritual contexts that will support and nurture homesteading? That’s our spiritual task.