Homesick, Homeless, and Homeward
We just returned from two weeks Florida, the children and I.
I had been invited to St. Petersburg, to present a few workshops for Presbyterian pastors involved or interested in New Church Development.
Now about the time that I confirmed that agreement, I stumbled upon an email I received seven years ago, when the only dancing that Karlchen was doing was dancing with death in the German ICU.
It was from his physical therapist, and she said, “When Karl is medically stable [a thought that was simultaneously promising and painful, especially because she said when, and not if] you must take him to Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, FL. I was an intern there,” she went on, “and I have seen healing and miracles through these people and these dolphins.”
So suddenly, there I was, off to Florida for one gig and lining up another.
The thing of it is, with all due respect to Floridians, I confess that of all the places I have ever ever yearned to visit, Florida was not on the list.
I could couch it and say, not on the top 3, or 10, but no, really, it just wasn’t on my list.
And now we were off to Key Largo in the South, ending up in St. Petersburg in the West, and in-bewteen visiting a friend and preaching in Jacksonville, in the North.
Two weeks in Florida.
The experiences were so different, in each place, and so good, in each place. New and renewed connections, and dolphins and injured whales and geckos and iguanas and more dolphins and all of that was good, and very good at that.
But I confess that the entire time, this adventuresome soul, this well-traveled woman, longed for prairie and temperate temps.
In short, my hunch was right.
I do not like Florida.
I tried, and yet realized that when the entire population of South Dakota comprises 1/6 of Miami, well, we aren’t in SD anymore, Toto.
So here I was, albeit enjoying richly time with my children and acquaintances and friends, and yet I had to finally give in to the fact that I was, in point of fact, homesick.
I wanted a buffalo.
Frederick Buechner wrote a book some time ago entitled The Longing for Home: Recollections and Reflections. I’m culling from it and from my first alert to it in Walter Brueggemann’s piece Cadences of Home. In it, Brueggemann refers to Buechner’s following observations:
We carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us (110).
Joy is home…(128).
Woe to us indeed if we forget the homeless ones who have no vote, no power, nobody to lobby for them, and who might as well have no faces even, the way we try to avoid the troubling sight of them in the streets of the cities were they roam like stray cats. And as we listen each night to the news of what happened in our lives that day, woe to us if we forget our own homelessness (104).
To be homeless the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them. To be really at home is to be really at peace, and our lives are so intricately interwoven that there can be no real peace for any of us until there is peace for all of us.
In another reflection on Buechner’s words, Brueggemann adds this thought:
In times of dislocation the temptation is to become self-preoccupied and self-indulgent…We can see this self-preoccupied individualism in the greed that our society calls ‘opportunity,’ in the demise of public health care because it is ‘too costly,’ and in the decay of public institutions regarded as too expensive to maintain, as though taxation were a penalty rather than a necessary neighborly act.
And then here’s the kicker:
Times of dislocation are particularly apt to foster a permanent underclass. Nervous and anxious people may be tempted to gouge their economically vulnerable neighbors. But the Bible presents dislocation as a motivation for building a more just society. The laws of public life might be very different if all remained aware of their own vulnerability.
My point is that in Florida, by the end of our time there, I realized that my spirit was feeling increasingly dislocated, displaced, and thereby cranky.
In fact, I think a person can be homesick even for themselves, for their center, their home within themselves.
Writ large, I think that Buechner and Brueggemann are on to something.
Our society is anxious, and anxiety is leading to cranky posturing, hostile protectiveness, and a loss of communal connection; in short, manifest symptoms of homesickness.
But then the question becomes, what is our home? Who owns the home for which we are yearning? Who is allowed to live in the home?
The word economics comes from the Greek oikos and nomos, namely “rules of the house.”
What are our economics, and who writes those rules, and whom do they benefit most?
And perhaps most critical, why are we not at home?
Truly, when I saw my first cow after getting off that plane on Friday, I wanted to hug it.
If I could have found a way to wrap my arms around those flowing fields of my South Dakota, I would have.
I wanted to roll in its dirt like a pig, I was so happy to be home.
So my mental meanderings come down to this:
I think we are as a society homesick.
Many are in point of fact homeless.
And I think more of us are homeless, figuratively speaking, than we might like to think.
And while we often speak of “going home” to heaven, I’m kind of thinking that there’s a lot of scriptural background for making sure that people have homes here. Now.
So “Joy is home,” says Buechner.
And I find myself humming:
Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day
(For you Floridians out there, feel free to substitute bay, dolphins, and manatee.)
May you find your way home, may you find joy there, and may the door be wide, the rooms many.
May there be food for all, prairie and ocean, kind community, and a rule of the house based on justice and mercy.
May there be no such thing as homelessness, or homesickness.
And on your way, may your vision of home be broad, may it be broadened, and may you find yourself a guest and a host of welcome and peace.