The Heart’s True Home

 

I remember the first time I saw the Robert Heinlein title, Stranger in a Strange Land. Very few phrases captured my inner sense of self in such a way. I was a teenager at the time – thus, a fair amount of my commonality with the title has to be chalked up to “teenage angst.” Few teens feel at home – anywhere. In many ways, they’re not supposed to. Too much is changing, both inside and out, for a teen to find a confidence in the nature of things. This is particularly true in our modern economy.

There is a tale told about “coonskin” caps. Following Disney’s release “Davy Crockett” (1955), a craze began among young boys – everyone wanted a coonskin hat like Crockett’s. I had a cousin who made his own (now that’s impressive). The discovery birthed by this 50’s phenomenon was the power of marketing to the post-war “baby boom.” Never before in human history had so much attention been given to youth-as-market. Rock ‘n Roll, the teen angst of James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause” (1955), created an image and model that began to peak in the 1960s and became the avant garde of everything modernity has sought to sell ever since.

Marketing is, by and large, the manipulation of shame in order to stir desire (the passions). It is not an environment in which anyone ever feels “at home.” You’re not supposed to. Those who are most at home shop the least. (Nobody “needs” a coonskin cap).

Despite all of this, there is within us something that responds to the phrase, “Stranger in a strange land.” The sense of homesickness, or a desire for “home,” is not erased by marketing. Neither can it be satisfied in that manner. If anything, we must describe our inherent homesickness as a gift from God. A quote from C.S. Lewis points to this:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

It is to Lewis’ credit that he managed, despite a young man’s atheism, to come to the realization that his heart was hungry for God, homesick for heaven, and that he needed to change course and set sail towards that Dawn that has no ending.

It is of note, in the providence of his life, that it is likely that this longing was intensified by the death of his mother when he was a young boy. It need not have had such an effect, but it seems unmistakeable that it contributed to it. Only a belief in the goodness of God dare make such an observation.

Our own lives, indeed, the life of the world, is marked by many tragedies, disappointments and points of suffering. They are not the “cause” of our homesickness, but they easily contribute to its poignancy. I traveled back to my home last September, on the anniversary of my mother’s falling asleep. My childhood neighborhood is in ruins, economic and social decay have largely been unchecked since 1964 when the local Air Force base closed. I also drove down to see the trailer that my parents had moved to in the country (it stayed there for quite a while). I do not know if it’s been moved, but it is now so overgrown that it cannot be seen. The picture accompanying this article is from about 10 years ago when it was still visible.

What I observed on that trip was that nothing whatsoever in this world could assuage the ache of my heart. Instead, saying prayers by my parents’ graves, and remembering them in the Church, are the only balm. Indeed, they are now no longer part of my past but part of a future that I properly long for.

The true heart, so often hidden from our awareness, is paradise. And, as such, it contains “many mansions.” Many things, even all things, dwell there, but not as they were. What we find in the depths of the true heart is Christ, and all things in Christ. Much of what I ever knew in the past was make-believe, or imagninary. For example, no child truly knows their parent. What we see of them is the tip of an iceberg, often surrounded with things we imagine to be true. A child might mention a moment that endures in their memory which the parent cannot even recall. All we could ever find, were we truly able to travel into the past, would be a shadow, a shade, a ghostly apparation that mocks reality itself. These things have no place in the true heart.

Of course, there may be many things and moments in our lives that carry some echo of eternity. It is eternity itself that we long for and not its echoes. I have some wonderful memories of transcendent moments in various Liturgies through the course of my life. But those moments were themselves not the thing itself. The thing itself has been present in every Liturgy, even every other moment of life, mostly unrecognized.

Among the most poignant statements in the gospels is in the opening chapter of St. John:

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (1:10-11)

It describes Christ’s “homecoming.” It is followed by a statement that reverses and fulfills:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:” (1:12)

Home Himself has come among us in order to welcome us strangers into the place that has been prepared for us. Strangers no more, we may dwell in paradise – the heart’s true home.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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15 responses to “The Heart’s True Home”

  1. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed, Father, Christ is our true home and He is in our midst. Glory to God!

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection, Father.

  2. David E. Rockett Avatar
    David E. Rockett

    Thank you Father. Never considered the possibility, yea likelihood that the longing for Place or the longing for Home…were both the longing for our eternal Heaven. Reminds me of that most stunning & amazing declaration by the Apostle:
    “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
    Nor have entered into the heart of man
    The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
    Lord have mercy

  3. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    “All we could ever find, were we truly able to travel into the past, would be a shadow, a shade, a ghostly apparition that mocks reality itself.”

    Father Stephen,

    In reading your recent posts about place, I have often thought of the model of the space-time continuum. As your return to your childhood home evidences, revisiting a place is every bit as difficult as time travel, although we sometimes forget (because we move back and forth on the space axis and only forward on the time axis). The result, however, is the same: we can’t go home again. Or as Heraclitus observed, “no man ever steps in the same river twice.”

    One of my most poignant quotations has long been “For time is the longest distance between two places” (Tennessee Williams).

    Much in Orthodoxy attracts my heart, but the idea that the Eucharist is celebrated once and for always and that all believers are always at one table feeds my intellect. That God transcends all times and places such that in Him everything is “here” and “now” is (for me) the only reasonable explanation of reality.

  4. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    This theme about place is intriguing. In the old testament the Israelites would erect stone markers places for the purpose of ancestral memory. It seems so to me that the Tradition of the Church is ancestral memory as well. Previously, I used to think that Jesus words “Neither in this mountain nor that will people worship the Father” meant that all reference to place had been superseded. I can’t see it that way anymore. The ubiquity of the Spirit doesn’t imply that there are no places where the veil is thinner or where the veil is thicker. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the veil is very thin at certain places, like Mt. Athos–or that it becomes more thin during certain times. There is something here that deserves attention.

  5. Nancy A Holloway Avatar
    Nancy A Holloway

    Hauntingly beautiful!

  6. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Mark Spurlock – as we say “everywhere present and filling all things”. Very true, and if we allow Him, filling our hearts, minds, and souls too.
    At age 75, more of my family and friends have already gone on to be with God. I have a son, and a beloved husband there too. God blessed me with an amazing Orthodox husband after my late husband’s death, and I have found the path that God clearly planned for me. Thru SO many things that this world can do to you, or put you thru, it is so comforting to know God is there every moment. I just shared with a customer of our family company that we pray “God grant us a painless, blameless, and peaceful death – with a good defense before the dread judgement seat of Christ”. She absolutely loved that! I do too. What a wonderful hope, and a prayer. The Orthodox funeral is different too. You leave almost envying the person that died. So much love,prayer, and hope is a part of the ceremony of burying our dead.
    We truly can’t go back – even a moment – as time moves on with or without us. Someday it will be our turn to “go home” to our heavenly Father, Mother Mary, and all our beloved Saints and Elders. Life teaches us lessons, and it is up to us how we use our time and our efforts. God gives us free will, but like all loving parents – hopes we will make good choices with how we use our time, and what we do with our efforts.

  7. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    First of all I resonate deeply with this article. Indeed sometimes this pull toward our true home is so strong that I can think of nothing else and this world becomes apparition-like for me. Certain mental pictures come to mind. One is General Maximus in Gladiator, feeling the wheat against his hands as he walks toward the blue gate, beyond which lies his home where his ” once again” happy wife and son await him. Another is the main character in Powder running through the field while the lightening calls him home. And then there’s John Coffey in The Green Mile submissively awaiting the electric chair because life in this world feels like having shards of glass in his head because of all the hateful things people do to each other.

    But secondly what I find most bizarre about this phenomenon is that even though we are all strangers in a strange land and all of us long for home, subconsciously most of us believe we are one of the very few who feel this way. Everyone else is either coping just fine or they’re miserable but without a clue that it is due to this foreigner’s disease. After Sheldon Vanauken wrote A Severe Mercy, he was overwhelmed by the number of people who wrote him to declare that only the two of them understood this deep sense of loss and displacement.

    I heard someone say that the greatest accomplishment of the devil is making everyone think they’re alone while everyone else is somehow united to the whole and doing okay. I’m quite willing to believe that at this point. But of course I’m equally amazed that on most of the occasions when I finally do open up and reveal a bit of myself to person across from me – and they actually respond in kind. My heart cries out, “You too?! I was sure I was the only one!”

    For some strange reason this gives me hope. Perhaps one of the main reasons every knee bows on the Last Day is not just the revelation that they have finally arrived home, but that everyone else has too and they are no longer alone. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

  8. Sinnika Avatar
    Sinnika

    “Deep in a mother’s heart love starts.”

    When my mother died, eleven years ago, I felt a big hole in my heart, like a huge sinkhole opening up. As I had never lived without her, the thought that this sweet and gentle person was no longer here, made me want to follow her and to be where she now was, in Heaven. I prayed to God to let me leave, to take me home!
    Of course, I knew that I had to stay until my appointed time, but the sorrow and grief was unbearable.

    The love that only a parent can give to a child, is an unconditional love, it makes you feel safe and at home, so I felt homeless.
    God, Who is love, is our Father and I know He cares for me, but, He is invisible, I have to go to the secret place in my heart to know that, which I often forget to do.
    Life seems like is a never ending journey, I can still envy people who pass through the door of no return. I look forward to the end of this road, no doubt there will be more sinkholes on the way, it is after all the Way of Christ, the Way of Sorrow.
    “A pure heart create in me, O Lord, and put a steadfast spirit within me.”

  9. Grant Avatar
    Grant

    ‘Indeed, they are now no longer part of my past but part of a future that I properly long for.’

    Thank you again, Father.

  10. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Sinnika,

    A big amen to your comments. My father died a couple years ago. I was at first bewildered that one of my strongest emotions was one of envy. He definitely earned his rest, but that didn’t stop me from being a bit green about it. Like you, I am God’s servant and therefore will content myself to wait on His timing for me, but whenever I stop emphasizing His will over my own, it doesn’t take for envy and self-pity to assert themselves again.

  11. Christa Avatar
    Christa

    drewster and sinneka… yes me too. i want to leave so badly but God must want me here… and yes , there is much to do and a long way to grow in forgiveness and love…
    no. we are not alone. We are all together holding out our hands …..come let us worship…come upon us Holy Spirit.

  12. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I long for Christ. But I’m not sure I wait for the Kingdom to come in the sense that I want to leave this world. I love this world and I look for the Kingdom of God here in this place. I pray that I love this world in the way that God does. But I know the depths of my heart are not yet that deep. I believe very much what Simon wrote, that there are places in this world where the veil is quite thin.

    I’ve been praying/reading the prayers to the Theotokos and reading about her through the words of Fr Alexander Schmemann. The loving warmth of her embrace is a wonderful balm, the one who wipes away the tears.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    I’m probably on the same page with you.

    There is such a great mystery in the connection between sacrament and place. In the Liturgy, we are not led to just “think” the sacrament. Ultimately, we eat and drink – there is a “place” in that sense. It is also true that the sacramental experience has a component in the heart. I suppose that the sacramental experience is, ideally, the marriage of heart and place.

    It is that marriage that I desire and long for.

    “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road?” (Luke 24)

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The marriage of heart and place. My Dad was a community health MD with a Masters in Public Health from Harvard. However, he grew up on the back of a horse homesteading with his family in eastern New Mexico. He wore a cowboy hat most of the time, a big black cowboy hat, even as one of the most respected local community health leaders in the US.

    When he, my brother and I made a pilgrimage back to the homestead site, my brother took a picture of my Dad in his hat looking out over the prairie.

    Oneness of soul and creation, timeless, somehow endless. My Dad wholly at home, a perfect melding of past, present and future.

    When my father reposed, my brother and I had a moment alone with each other, my Dad and his hat. My brother asked, “What should we do with the hat?” We each would have liked it as a memory of him.

    As soon as the question was asked the answer was obvious: the HAT had to go with Dad in his coffin. It is one with him in a unique way. Thinking of that moment now brings peace and joy to my heart.

    That moment also gives an insight into the Incarnation and as to why we do not cremate in the Orthodox Church. Why we are not afraid of death.

    Also, my Dad and my late wife are buried next to each other, at peace though they did not get along in this life.

    There is a great mystery in that moment which I will always cherish.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Something just dawned on me that I had never thought of before regarding my mother and my father what drew them together and kept them together despite not much seeming commonality.
    The place they each felt grounded was the New Mexico prairie of the early 20th century. Spiritually, emotionally and physically that was their home. Despite a very difficult marriage somehow that sustained them and was the principle gift they gave to my brother and me that directed us, led us to Jesus Christ and the Church. Well, I always knew I was dense but this takes the cake.
    Perhaps if they had consciously recognized that connection and worked on it their marriage would have been less conflicted.

    Just recognizing it now brings light, color and peace to me about them I have never had before.
    It may be tied into my own repentance and salvation. God is good. The mystery of being human quite deep.

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