Many stories of faith retail the pain of exile, of forceable removal from the land we call home. These days of responding to a global pandemic finds exile reimagined: we are exiled from the church building, and from being physically together.
For those who cannot return to our places of work, this might feel like an exile into the place we call home.
For those whose work or school life continues five days a week, not being able to attend that one morning of church might be disorienting.
The Reverend Forrest Church wrote his book, Bringing God Home: A Traveler’s Guide in 2002. The book is his own story of spiritual growth, wandering and wondering, over a lifetime of encounters with institutional religion and personal faith. It seems to me, his framing of faith development as a process of bringing God home speaks to our strange days.
I invite you to join me in reflecting on this book.
To get us started, I have selected three passages for us to consider. If a particular passage found resonance with your spirit, please bring it to the conversation.
- From the beginning of Chapter 7, p. 119
“Keep the Home-fires burning,
While your hearts are yearning
Though your lads are far away,
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark cloud shining;
Turn the dark cloud inside out
Till the boys come home”
-Lena Ford, “Keep the Home-Fires Burning”
These boys from the World War I songs are soldiers, but they could be any of our children. When our children – be they dutiful or prodigal, settled or wandering – are far from home, we keep the home fires burning for them. In our spiritual search also, it never hurts to ask, Who keeps the home fires burning for us? Who tends our hearth, awaiting our return, when we are far away?
For St. John-ers, I wonder where we imagine the home fires to be?
Who keeps the fires burning for you / for whom do you keep the fires lit?
Does the image of people as “children of God” speak to you? Why or why not? (I have been known to say that “we are all children of the universe,” a proclamation with its own rough edges.)
In Chapter 7, Church writes about his relationship with his father and ways in which he both rebelled and reconciled. Does this pattern resonate with you?
When you welcome others home, how do you live into that welcome?
2. From the middle of page 142, Church writes:
Some say that we are what we eat. More aptly, we are what we keep. The amalgam of belongings we collect and display at home both illustrates our past and presents it as a composite work in progress, as unique as individual identity itself is, each of our lives a living canvas layered with the patinas of memory. Yet, there is another part to the saying, “be it every so humble, there is no place like home.” What happened when we creative living spaces for ourselves that boast of our material accomplishments, advertising good and expensive taste? When we return every nightfall to roam through “pleasures and palaces,” is this cause for celebration or concern?
During the pandemic, many of us are cleaning out our closets, clearing off our shelves. I am struck by Church’s question, is (what we own) cause for celebration or concern?
3. On page 147, Church observes:
I have noticed of people as they grow older that, as they become practiced in avoiding things that may not please them, over time – with fewer and fewer activities falling outside the compass of ensured satisfaction – the circle of their lives begins to close. They may be safe in their gardens, but as the walls grow higher the sun shines in more fleetingly with each passing season of their life. My own indolence tells me to ignore this observation. After all, if I can somehow shirk engagements that don’t guarantee some pleasure, I can liberate my life from pain. I can avoid the dangers of disappointment and embarrassment, and especially the risk of discovery. The risk of discovery cuts both ways, of course, I may avoid being discovered for who I am, but also, less happily, I preclude myself from the discovery of meaning beyond my mere subsistence.
Does this passage ring true for you? What is there about these days of reckoning with a history and culture of racism that invites you into discovery? Is discovery worth the risks?
There are more passages that I would like to lift up and a sermon on Jonah, inspired by Chapter 2, may be coming soon! But for now, I encourage you to read the book. Even if you haven’t read the book, you can reflect on the above passages and join in the conversation.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at 7:00 on Zoom. The link is in the e-news.