Fourth Sunday in Lent
“what is the word beyond. home.
where is it. this word.
why can i not remember how to say this
thing. this feeling that is my whole body.”
“I think that love comes so seldom, so brittle, that I’m always knocked over by the offer of a little. But asking for a lot would take a lot of bravery.”
A friend and I had spent the afternoon in the sun and the breeze talking about relationships, and after, I’d had this dawning vision that perhaps she was worthy of more love than she was allowing herself to hope for. So hours later, through a bit of trembling, I told her so. And her response was one so resonant with my own experience, so human, so all of us.
Sometimes to hope to be lavishly, abundantly loved is almost too much – to hope for the much over the little, the embrace over mere proximity, belonging over mere fitting, forever over merely tomorrow. Faced with anxieties about ourselves, history that leaves shame or deep wounds in its wake, or supposed proofs of our inferior humanity and supposed reasons our imaginations have run too wild in wanting, we settle – because scarcity is more than nothing, proximity more than distance, fitting more than alienation, tomorrow more than merely today.
And the bravery to ask for a lot, instead of the little seems an excruciating proposition, strangely worse than asking for even the brittle. So we long after the pods the swine feed on, cracked and dry and seed gone, because even that would fill the hunger, so we think. And the poverty is greater than of mere nourishment, stretching further, even to our failures to imagine we could be wanted so much.
After awhile, we come to ourselves, hoping our way by inches into something better – servant’s bread over swine pods, proximity over distant alienation, and to hope even this much seems wild success. And so we go home, not as son but servant, not as the loved but the utilitarian, riding in on hopes of cutting a business deal.
The sad irony of the prodigal son’s journey is how he mistakes material inheritance for abundance, the temporal thrills of purchased affection over the enduring love of home. How the familiar, the quotidian, and our own restlessness can blind us to the abundance already ours.
But it isn’t as if the older brother, by the supposed virtue of staying, has any better sense of his belovedness. He stays and lives as a glorified servant, still mistaken about what constitutes his birthright, discontented and waiting for his father’s passing on, under a thin veneer of duty and fidelity.
As it turns out, the faraway land and the purchased exotic illusions of love can be as close as one’s own beating heart, disguised as tolerant obedience. Selling out takes many forms. Home is more than mere locale, geography, beyond the property lines of proximity.
Home is the way of a body oriented toward the world, a hexis of belovedness, an active condition born of the practices of at-home-ness – practices we practice, and practices practiced on us. Home is posture, a bodily comportment, lived in trust of the community, trust of the truth, surrender of self-autonomous identity and the right to be who we are convinced we are.
No quilted plaid hearts in a lovely frame with a touch of embroidery, sometimes home is a refining fire that eats us from the inside out – a work of the Spirit fanning flame through our storehouses of brittle pods, gutting our presuppositions and clearing ground for something with roots and the power to wind deeply into our soil to catch there, hold relentlessly against the forces that would diminish us. Home is the refining that redefines us.
Home is the work of receiving the gift, embracing the embrace, the abundance, the intimacy, the belonging. It’s the bravery to ask for a lot, over the brittle or the little.
It’s the work of inhabiting the mind of the father – which calls for in-habiting, the task of habituation toward coming to trust belovedness. No easy task, sometimes it looks like a thousand small journeys to visit the swine, examine the pods again, turn them in the hand and consider hunger; then a thousand homecomings, a thousand events of donning the best robes, a thousand fatted calves, a thousand times thinking this will be the time you’ll finally be merely a servant, just to find out you are still and evermore, son.
Home is geography; and home is not geography, but instead rests in the embodied imaginations of the ecclesial community, the ones who embody abundance, awe, delight, and refining fire.
I moved a year and a half ago, and when I go back to Tennessee, and they tenderly embarrass me all over again with the robes and fatted calves of their love, they stand as the eyes of the father scanning the horizon, the arms of the father embracing, hospitable door-keepers into the good love of God for me. They take me as I am, selling out for servanthood, and return me to myself more whole, well, and becoming alive in being beloved and daughter. When I return to them, I not only come home, but become home, embodying their love for me.
Where is the faraway land exactly, if it can be as close as one’s own heart? Faraway is anywhere we settle for scarcity, any place we trade illusions for the genuine, the places where we sate our hunger with survival instead of flourishing, where we mistake inheritance for abundance, where we choose to be servants because we are wilted too much to hope to be sons. Faraway is anywhere we embody consumer capitalist economics instead of the economy of the household of God’s abundant consuming love.
Home is the fire, the work, the receiving, the habits and practices, the stability in friendship, the body living belovedness. It’s the gift and task of our own identity, the becoming who we truly are; it’s the embodying of our graced worthiness of extravagant abundance. Home is the arms that feel like home, reminding us that we are remembered, known, loved, wanted, and hoped for beyond our ability to hope. Home lives in bodies, and the ways of bodies in the world.
We the church are a confederation of prodigals slowly turning beloveds. Clothed with the best robes of Christ, we are learning to live in the abundant love which is ours through graced adoption as sons and daughters of the Most High. Our fatted calf… well, we’re fresh out of calf really, but do have some Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We have bread, wine, and fellowship together in abundance. As ones who are receiving such gifts, our role is reconciliation, the task of hospitality in the house of God, embodying home to would-be servants, now called beloved sons and daughters. We are the finders of the lost, becoming found, and welcomers of wanderers becoming home.