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Exile and homecoming

Two of my favourite words in the English language are ‘nearly home’.   

I’ve long been preoccupied with the concept of home; maybe because I spent my primary school years in a boarding school so far from where my parents lived that we only got back at Christmas. I moved constantly throughout my life until about 20 years ago, and was infinitely adaptable and quite appreciative of change and the opportunities to experience different domiciles. Wherever I was, though, I very quickly nested, put up my stuff, made a place, well, homely. Always.

Even when I travel, wherever I stay quickly becomes my temporary home, the place I return to with a sigh of satisfaction after a long day of walking or sight-seeing. If I am camping, my tent is my little home. When I’m on retreat, my cell is the place I nestle into like a warm womb. I seldom enter the house where we have lived for 17 years or wake within its sheltering walls without a prayer of gratitude.

At the same time, I never feel completely at home in any country. Melbourne is obviously my home; it is where I work and worship and where most of the people I love best are. At a visceral level, however, I feel more utterly at home in India, where I spent the first 12 years of my life, or the UK, where all my childhood literature came from and where I feel I belong more than I ever will in the Antipodes. So wherever I am, I’m happy, and wherever I am I’m also yearning for somewhere else – deep, sudden, piercing pangs of homesickness that hit out of the blue and that sometimes send me scuttling back to the Subcontinent for a fix.

I’m learning to accept this sense of incompleteness both as a gift - the sign of a rich and complex life - and as just what comes with being human. This side of death, we will always be missing somewhere, something, somebody without whom we feel incomplete.

It’s also part of the spiritual condition of human kind, who are created to long for more. Mostly, in our society, we confuse this with wanting more stuff, and we get more stuff endlessly and are never satisfied. What we are meant to long for is more connection with something greater than ourselves (I am a person of faith, so I call this God), more capacity for self-transcendence, more peace in the world, more peace in our families, more peace in our souls.

No one who gives a toss about anything outside themselves is unfamiliar with the deep longing for a better world, the despair when wars accelerate and powerful people lack compassion and the planet teeters on the brink of annihilation, mostly through our own greed and neglect. We all long for better: for creation, for victims of violence, for refugees, for the starving. This is what forms the burden of our prayers of intercession every week in Christian worship.

Exile and longing for home is a common theme in the Hebrew Scriptures; with foundation stories such as the Children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years after generations of slavery in Egypt and the Babylonian exile. The best-known line in the Basis of Union, the foundation document of my own Uniting Church in Australia is The church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal.

In a world seething with refugees, the concept of having a home at all is not to be taken for granted. If we are lucky, if we have the right love and psychological care, we carry inside us a sense of home that grounds and protects us through the toughest times. But I believe I will never feel completely at home until after this life is over and I have started the last great adventure, where I see God more clearly, where I will be freed from the baggage that keeps me from loving God and others and myself completely. I believe that at the end of everything, in the words of Revelation 21, 3-4:

God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes, Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

I have no picture of what life after life might be like, but I believe that somehow every person who dies becomes part of that great harmonious, praising, open household of God and that everyone I know who has already died is partaking of that great feast of love with the mighty beating heart of love that created and sustains the universe.

The Canticle of St Francis, which we sang at our wedding 37 years ago, includes a beautiful but oft-omitted verse which starts off, And thou most kind and gentle death, waiting to hush our latest breath. I hope that when I am dying, I will have the most complete sense in my life of being ‘nearly home’. If I am lucky enough to be with my beloved at the moment when he journeys from this life to the next, I would like to whisper to him, with utter conviction. ‘Nearly home my darling, nearly home.’

This was published in the June 2017 edition of The Melbourne Anglican


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Reader Comments (6)

Heart openingly beautiful. Thank you.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Oh my. I always know I'm in safe hands when starting reading one of your pieces, dear Clare, but this one brought tears to my eyes and took me somewhere profound and unexpected. Thank you.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I appreciate this post so much and I appreciate your strength and wisdom in writing it. Thank you.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarian Hood

Clare....I am living in my twenty-ninth home. Thank God this current home has been permanent for more than twenty years .Your very moving article brought ready tears. Thankyou Clare
Arthur Poole

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterArthur Poole

ah, Clare, you have done it again, just beautiful!! Thank you so much for putting into words the answers to the many questions I get from time to time. Just what I needed to read!

June 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJay Robinson

So glad to see the baby bloomers dropping off. The most destructive generation in history.

June 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMGTOW

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