The Center for a Just Society is hosting a symposium on “home” that I contributed an essay to. Below is an excerpt from my piece that you can read in full here.
“Home,” Robert Frost noted famously in “The Death of the Hired Man,” “Is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” An unreliable vagrant worker, who still cuts a sympathetic figure, returns to a place where he had been shown grace and compassion to die. With nowhere else to turn, he goes to the house where he knows he will not be turned away, and thus comes home. In this poignant poem, Frost illustrates that a home does not need to exist as one’s primary residence, a particular set of coordinates indicating longitude and latitude, or even as the matrix of direct biological kin. Home is the place that allows one to discover a deeper humanity in the interpenetration of one’s life with the lives of others.
Even the word “place” in this case is not limited to the idea of a point on a map. Speaking about place, Robert Farrar Capon says, “Location is accidental to its deepest meaning. What really matters is not where we are, but who—what real beings—are with us.”
A “home” can be made anywhere.
Still, although a geo-specific location is not a necessary pre-condition for “home,” it still matters. Consider the Hebrew Tabernacle and Temple. The Tabernacle was not a permanent structure and occupied no long-term territory. Still, it met all the necessary requirements for the presence of God (Shekinah) to dwell there (Exodus 40:34-35).
But the Tabernacle was not the ideal. The Most High was supposed to dwell in the Temple in the land God had promised the Israelites. The Tabernacle was a temporary provision until that was possible. Rootedness was the end goal. While accommodations were made for this nomadic period, it was not an excuse to forever put off creating a place, with a geographic location, for God to dwell.
While the coming of Christ allowed for a transcendence of Temple worship and its ties to a specific geographic location, it did not nullify the significance of particularity in worship. The Word took on flesh at a particular time in history, in a particular place in the world, coming to a particular people. Jesus came not as an illusory projection of ethereal truth but as a particular manifestation of the Word through which we can experience truth.
While God does not need a particular place to be worshipped, it is only in a particular place that we ever worship God.
While a “home” does not need any particular place to be experienced, it is only through a particular place that we experience home.