Home and Away
Most people I know have a home. I have a nice enough home. It is not luxurious, but it is more than adequate. If you were to visit me, you would know that my home has that “lived in” feeling. It is not the kind of place with dazzle and formality. I have been in those kinds of homes. I always feel slightly uncomfortable and on edge. I hesitate to sit down or touch anything. Even though I am fairly athletic, in those kinds of situations I temporarily become a klutz!
It is pretty commonsense to differentiate house and home. Many people know the experience of moving into a new house. In fact, we usually say it precisely that way. We can buy a house and move into it. But it takes a while to have the house become a “home.” That process is likely different for most people. And the process typically has no time frame. Some may know how to become “home-makers” much more quickly than the rest of us. I actually think I am a pretty slow homemaker.
There are intentional things people do to make a “home.” There are the obvious things like our own furniture and, of course, things like pictures. Pictures, special books, a favorite desk and so much more make it “our home.” That is why you would get a “lived in” feeling if you walked into my home. You would not be surprised to see pictures of my girls and, now, some grandkids.
My home is unpretentious. It is the kind of place people would be comfortable sitting down anywhere. They probably would not hesitate to take off their shoes and relax, if they wanted to do so. No one likes to spill something. But if you visited me and spilled something, it would not be the end of the earth. You would probably be embarrassed, but you would not be preferring suicide in the moment! I would hope that my home would feel non-judgmental and non-condemning.
I recently had an opportunity to come back home after some travel. Most of the time, I enjoy some travel. It is nice to get away from home and routine for a while. But like most folks I know, it is always a treat to come back home. I began to think about this experience of coming home only to realize what a wonderful spiritual analogy it suggests. Let’s pursue this a bit.
As I pondered it, I realized that home means familiar surroundings. I already have shared a little about my home, so you have a sense of what coming home means. It means I can sit in my familiar chair. I can look out my window and see my trees in their various stages to match the season. I feel quite “at home.” In fact, it can be pitch dark in my home and I can make my way with some confidence.
As I thought about coming home after being away, I realized I wanted to explore the analogy with a kind of spiritual home. Come away with me and join me in that exploration.
The first thing that occurred to me is there is a deeper level of home than place. The home in which I live is a literal place. It has an address. It is specific in that no other place---no other house---has the same address. You can google my address and find my place. With cell phones, I never have to give directions; it is easy to find my place. But there is a deeper level of home than my place.
This is where the literal gives way to the figurative. What I mean by that is this deeper level of home is a metaphorical place. It does not have an address. You cannot google it. That deeper level is a “soul place.” Certainly the word, soul, is a tricky, complex word. Let me simply say that for me, soul is the essence of who I am. It is my core self---my true self, in the words of Thomas Merton and others. The deeper level of home has to do with soul.
I would put it this way: home is a deep, soulful place where we connect with the Spirit. In this sense home is that metaphorical place that is a soulful place. It is that “place” where my true self is available. It is that “place” where my soul connects with the Divine Soul---with God, if you prefer.
My own spirituality would assume that God is always ready and willing to make “house calls.” The Spirit would like nothing more than to go “home” with us. In fact, I could imagine for those saintly folks, God has moved in! God co-habits with these kinds of people.
I can imagine this deeper soulful level is co-habitation because the Spirit and the soul are in such intimacy that the language of “visiting” does not do it justice. This deep homecoming of the soul with the Spirit has been expressed with the symbolic language of marriage by the Christian contemplatives and mystics. I’m not there yet. It is fair to say God comes to my spiritual house to visit. But too often, I am away. I have some work to do---some homework.