An important aspect of Lent is giving space to the question: where do I belong? Or to put it another way: where is my true home?
When we ask this we join with Christ in his 40 days of testing, fasting, and isolation in the desert. 40 days to re-enact the 40 years’ desert wanderings of Israel, between Egypt and Canaan, between slavery and the promised homeland. And 40 days to remember Jesus Christ as a homeless exile, away from his place at the right hand of the Father, incarnated as a human being in order to cast out the prince of this world, to die and be raised again, defeating death and becoming our Messiah and King. He came to create a new people for himself, a nation of kings and priests, whose true home belongs on the far side of the resurrection in the new heaven and earth.
All this was tested during Christ’s own ‘Lenten fast’, as he was pummeled with doubts and questions by the devil.
As we recall these things, we are caught up in the tension of being a people with both a future hope and homeland, yet called to live in the mess and pain of the here-and-now. We are an in-between people, or an ‘already/not yet’ people, and as such it is sometimes difficult to remember the point of our wanderings. We too are faced with the temptation to settle down and establish roots in the immediate rather than the eternal. To turn these stones (job, salary, family, retirement) into bread. Although, as Paul says, our current troubles will seem “light and momentary” then, now it is the only perspective we have. But by the help of the Holy Spirit, Lent calls us to remember our future and to seek first the kingdom; to store up treasures where moth and rust cannot destroy.
Karl Marx and Martin Heidegger, two of the most influential philosophers of the 20th Century, both argued that our fundamental experience of the world is one of alienation. Although this world is our home (and we have no other), we don’t feel like we belong. We are ill-at-ease, and perhaps even deeply afraid of this world and its many uncertainties. Being both atheists, they proposed quite different but at heart largely sociological and economic solutions to this problem of alienation. Marx was of course the father of Communism, and Heidegger laid important philosophical groundwork for National Socialism (Nazism). In other words, their solution to our alienation had to do with changing the social and economic conditions related to class, wealth inequality, political structures, etc.
Many people can understand and perhaps even sympathise with what Marx and Heidegger were on about. For many, this world and especially our experience of home, is one of disappointment or perhaps worse - fear, abuse, trauma. Those from war-torn countries and those who have had to flee their homeland as refugees, know that this world can be a hostile, frightening, and unreliable place. But even if we have grown up in relatively stable, safe, and loving homes, in countries free of economic hardship or war, something still doesn’t feel quite right. All of us experience a longing for something more, and better.
This feeling was once described by CS Lewis as something he called a spiritual homesickness.
He goes on to ask that if this world is ‘right’ for us and if it is indeed ‘all there is’ then why do we have such a deep longing for something more? Why do we feel so alienated? Why doesn’t it satisfy us? Why don’t we feel at home here?
This is in fact one of the major themes of the Bible. It describes our human condition as a kind of exile. We are a homeless people, exiled because of sin, always traveling but seemingly never arriving. The homes and families we inhabit along the way are at best signposts to our true home, and our true family, but not the reality themselves. Jesus didn’t come to merely change the conditions of our experience of this world, but to make all things new. Dying: he carried this world and all its sin down into the grave; rising: he gave birth to a new creation. It is already here, already unfolding, but not yet complete, not yet fully come.
There is a real home we were made for, which is the hope (read: the goal) of our salvation. But for now we are in-betweeners, aliens and sojourners in this world. Our Lenten fast encourages us to embrace this, and to pray for God’s help and presence to sustain and guide us on our way to the Kingdom when, gathered around God’s eternal table, there will be feasting without end.
I leave you with this beautiful Lenten poem by Kelly Hart and Phuc Luu.
AWAY FROM HOME
God sent us away from home,
dressed with instruction
clothed and turned toward a future
that cannot be seen
with frightening anticipation
and the promise of blessing.
Just one step outside of Eden,
the air was different, so was breathing
and our legs and our stride
and then came quickly the question:
“From where will my help come?”
We depended on the One who would hold our feet steady,
trying step through the terrain, sometimes climbing ever upward
Did we stop to just gaze at sun or moon?
Did we notice the stars or sand on shore?
Not like we did before—
now only points on the path, directional
pointing clearly to something more—
someone who made the universe
and its sandy beaches
and sky and moving earth beneath our feet.
Bombs dropped on my homeland many years ago.
Their explosions like fireworks to my young ears,
move across the ocean of my soul
and meet me here, a place of new sights of sounds,
new wounds and healing and still—
“Where will my help come?”
Coming to trust again,
prayers are simply the cries of a baby
connected as in the womb
to the One whose arms are of embrace
the love of a mother for her child
to accept as a gift,
we breathe in and work
to make easy, what was once effortless.