Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Searching for Home.

Nehemiah 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the wine being my concern, I took up the wine and offered it to the king. Now I had never been downcast before. So the king said, ‘Why is your face so sad? You are not sick, surely? This must be a sadness of the heart.’ A great fear came over me and I said to the king, ‘May the king live for ever! How could my face be other than sad when the city where the tombs of my ancestors are lies in ruins, and its gates have been burnt down?’ ‘What’ the king asked ‘is your request?’ I called on the God of heaven and made this reply to the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if you are satisfied with your servant, give me leave to go to Judah, to the city of my ancestors’ tombs, and rebuild it.’ The king, with the queen sitting there beside him, said, ‘How long will your journey take, and when will you return?’ So I named a date that seemed acceptable to the king and he gave me leave to go. I spoke to the king once more, ‘If it please the king, could letters be given me for the governors of Transeuphrates to allow me to pass through to Judah? And also a letter for Asaph, keeper of the king’s park, to supply me with timber for the gates of the citadel of the Temple, for the city walls and for the house I am to occupy?’ This the king granted me, for the kindly favour of my God was with me.

Psalm 137

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
As for our lyres, we hung them up
on the willows that grow in that land.

For there our captors asked for a song,
our tormentors called for mirth:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I set not Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Luke 9:57-62

As Jesus and his disciples travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Today's readings touch a really deep chord within me. Nehemiah's profound sense of not being at home in Babylon, far from the land of his ancestors. The Psalmist's sense of being an alien in a different culture and world view. And Jesus's disturbing, deliberate severance of his followers from the ties of community, place and family. It goes to a place in my own journey that is very uncomfortable.

At the heart of many of my "problems" in life, lies a profound sense of alienation. Never feeling I was quite a normal part of my family when growing up. Being a working class oddity in a middle class church. As an Anglo-Catholic, being a slightly extreme and exotic sub-set within the whole, with it's own language ("Mass" rather than Eucharist or Communion). Being gay in a straight world and celibate in a sexualised one. As a stipendiary priest, being called to serve for a time in a parish, never choosing to embed in a place I felt was my true spiritual home (linked to the Anglo-Catholicism) and living in tied accommodation rather than "my ain wee house". After a while, this sense of not belonging, really belonging, grinds you into a place where you feel utterly alone and isolated. (And yes, there is a wee bit of the "poor Me's" in this).

What does it mean to belong, to be at home? Choice is vital, but does anyone have total freedom of choice in life? And if we are called in baptism to be citizens of "Another Country", will that sense of being truly at home, of really belonging ,be something we will know in this life?

That sense of not belonging, of not fitting in, is one that I hear time and time again in my Tuesday night meeting. It's a sense that has contributed to dangerous and self destructive behaviour to pretend to fit in and belong. And it really does help to know that I'm not the only one who feels/has felt like this. But those who have moved and through it to a better place seem to have made it by adjusting their attitude to the world, rather than making the world fit their point of view. Re-fashioning and reforming your take on life is a massive task and very slow. So I continue to explore who I am and where I am meant to be with a sense of curiosity, as well as touches of fear. But it is rather interesting rather than totally terrifying!


  1. Not belonging can have a positively liberating effect. I grew up in an environment where everybody was trying to pigeonhole everybody else. Having an Irish (and Gaelic to boot)first name and an English surname meant that people didn't know where to put me. I found that gave me a certain detachment and a real freedom.

  2. Thought about that Eamonn. How did I handle the not belonging feeling? By seeing it as a way of being set free to move about and be available for God to use as needed. True to a point. But perhaps at this mid-life stage it's no longer a model that fufills me and I'm looking more to be rooted and nourished that perennially moving and nourishing others.