Six months into this pandemic, without an end in sight, the idea of time spent at home may hold less appeal than it once did. Home is a construct that is as concrete as the spaces we inhabit daily and as ephemeral as an idea that lives only in our imaginations. Sue Monk Kidd writes in When the Heart Waits: “The image of coming home is a powerful, archetypal symbol for returning to one’s deepest self, to the soul. To come home is to return to the place of inner origin, that original imprint of God within. Therefore, coming home fills us with a sense of being in the right place, a sense of deep spiritual belonging. We all have this profound longing to come home, whether we recognize it or not.”
When I was a new pastor in the rural Midwest, I would often visit elderly parishioners who lived in the very homes they’d been born into. The place they inhabited daily held the story of their lives. This sort of settled-ness is entirely unfamiliar to me. From the moment I moved abroad as a new baby, my entire life has been a succession of moves, from town to town and house to house. The notion of abiding, of dwelling in a single place for even more than several years, much less a lifetime is foreign, indeed.
But if home is as Kidd describes it, a place of deep spiritual significance, a place where a sense of belonging is found, what does it mean to live life in a series of homes? How does this absence of physical settled-ness affect our interior selves? What do homes teach us?
Four years ago, my Beloved and I moved into a home we knew would only house us for a time. Built by the Petersen family in 1908, the farmhouse stood watch over an apple orchard for many years. As the land around her was developed and divided, she soon stood watch over a more suburban landscape, although many of the apple trees remained. On a late summer day in 2016, we signed a lease and became those who would care for and be cared for by what we came to call the Magic Farmhouse.
Our time there always felt liminal; we knew from the beginning that this would not be home forever. Still, we felt called to accompany her, somehow. To rest on her wide back porch and assure her that a hundred plus years of sheltering people is a worthy history. To wander through her planted gardens and enjoy the gifts of each new spring. To shiver in front of her windows each winter before lighting the fire in the wood stove. To sit on her welcoming front porch and imagine what life was like in 1908.
Over the course of the years we saw our share of wildlife in her yard: raccoons, possums, a fox, and more than one coyote. I try to forget about the rodents that scampered along the fence and by rodents I don’t mean the plentiful squirrels. It was a place of abundant bird watching, too. Hummingbirds carried special messages as they hovered nearby.
As happens when one claims a space as home, our experiences there were varied. We celebrated graduations and engagements and weddings. We grieved and railed at injustices and attacks both personal, communal, and global. We hunted Easter eggs, gathered around Christmas trees, and traipsed through snowstorms. We threw the ball thousands of time for our grand-dog. We wept over losses. Loss of dreams that we thought were before us. Loss of relationships. Loss of people we loved. And loss of our beloved dog, who, though blind when we moved there, claimed the Magic Farmhouse as home.
We all claimed it as home, even though none of our now grown children ever lived there. One of them said that he was sure if he went upstairs, he would find his childhood bedroom. And inexplicably from time to time, I would catch the scent of my grandmothers there. It was the place my Beloved and I said that, in our differing tastes and preferences, we loved equally.
As much as we considered ourselves caretakers and stewards of this place, she also cared for us. Living there, in acknowledged liminality, taught us that threshold spaces and places can be beautiful. We don’t have to rush through them. We don’t have to live with impatience. We can be mindfully present in the extraordinary gift of the now.
When it came time to leave the Magic Farmhouse, we were not ready. We were still discovering all that she had to teach us about ourselves…our true origins…those traits and quirks and the creaks in our body’s floors that make us uniquely who we are. We were still learning all that we could survive. We were beginning to claim the ways that the Magic Farmhouse somehow anthropomorphized the true home found in the Holy One. And that offered the first glimpse into what we needed to learn from the impermanence of our time there. That the archetype of Home is an archetype of an un-boundaried love. A love that does not leave us whether our physical roots are settled in the home of our birth or whether our call in this life is one of storied wandering. The poet David Whyte describes it, in his poem “At Home,” as finding home in “not just this house around me but the arms of a fierce but healing world.”
This is the true lesson of the Magic Farmhouse: that who we are, ultimately, is shaped by how we receive the graces and mercies and gifts of where we are, no matter where that might be.
What the world becomes depends on how we share them.
Consider the below prompts and discuss this blog post in our new forum space!
1. What are three gifts, graces, and/or mercies that you have received over the past 6 months? What are three gifts that you can share with your community during this time?
2. What is your experience of “home”? What makes somewhere a home rather than just a place? How do we create a sense of being “at home” for those in society who have been “othered” or neglected?
The Rev. Julie Hutson is the Senior Pastor of Luther Memorial Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Seattle, WA. A graduate of Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the University of Alabama, she finds joy and purpose in her extended work with those experiencing housing instability and homelessness. She serves on the Compass Housing Alliance Board of Directors and the Alumni Council of Trinity Lutheran Seminary. While practicing Stay Home/Stay Safe she’s catching up on her reading, making Sunday brunch (who knew?), and visiting with friends and family on ZOOM.