Home and its Absence

Home and its Absence

If you count a ‘home’ as somewhere you lived for at least six months, then for some people here today counting how many homes you’ve lived in will be an easy task. For some of you it would require a pen and paper and a bit of time to fathom out – just how many places you have lived in your life. I added mine up to 16 – 16 different places that I’ve lived in for six months or longer, during 62 years of life. This address is called ‘home and its absence’. I wonder how many of us have experienced homelessness. Some I expect. Or that feeling, when you have a place to lay your head, but it’s not ‘home’. The question of what home means to us is well worth exploring. And the number of places we’ve lived is a reflection of how old we are, of the pattern of our work and education; it reflects our family history, it reflects the changing world in which we live, it reflects politics and economics, and perhaps there’s a bit of free will in there too. Some of us are sometimes lucky enough to make choices about where to live.

We’re living in London most of us, a remarkably diverse city, filled with people whose original homes probably cover most areas of the world. I wonder how far some of you have travelled to be here. Show of hands for any Londoners born and bred, other parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, other European countries, other continents, any other planets? ….. one day perhaps, one day. (Editor’s note: apparently there were more extra-terrestrials in this Sunday service than any other category. This explains why we’re such an interesting congregation.)

Home is a word with multiple meanings. A place to sleep at night, a place where you can be yourself, a sanctuary from the world outside, a place of self-expression perhaps? Jennifer Kavanagh’s quote on the front of today’s order of service comes from her book entitled ‘The O of Home’ – a thought-provoking exploration of what home means to people.

‘Home is not just four walls or the country in which we were born. It is not a locked door, an investment, a legal address, or a nation with rigid borders. Home is where the heart is: a yearning for a precious past, a dream of something that has never been, or a present reality. In relationships, with our families, in communities, and with the whole of creation. Yet can we ever be truly at home unless we are at home to ourselves?’

I wonder what this simple word ‘home’ evokes for you?

For many people around the world, home now means a place they have to leave. A yearning for safety, for freedom, for economic possibilities – has people leave a place they generally love and journey to another land. A while back in our church newsletter I wrote about a conversation I’d had with a young man working at a hand car wash.

Usually your car is speedily washed by a group working together. But on this particular day the car in front needed so much attention that only one person cleaned my car that day and we started to talk. He came from Afghanistan, near Kandahar. When I told him how well he did his job he shrugged and said that it was all he could do because he had no education. I told him that my education meant that much of my day was spent in front of a computer and then wished I’d not said it because I had the car, the computer and the choice and he did not. He said that he missed Afghanistan but “sometimes we just have to leave places we love.” His name was Kasim. He was glad to be in England but it would never be home. I hoped that it might one day feel like home to his children.

As the numbers of people attempting to migrate to other countries increases we are witnessing a rise in nationalism – the love of one’s own country coupled with a somewhat unhealthy pride and sense of superiority. There’s nothing wrong with being patriotic unless it’s used / misused to enflame strong negative feelings towards others, towards foreigners, towards outsiders. And the use of patriotism in encouraging young men to meet their deaths in warfare is a chilling aspect of human nature, many of us would probably agree. Do you think humanity will ever grow out of this tribal behaviour? I suspect few of us will be around to see that golden day.

All the more important then that we cultivate the gracious art of hospitality, of welcoming people into our space – be that our home, our church or our country. An hospitable attitude can help to counter-balance those forces that seek to incite hatred of ‘the other’. Hospitality is based on the idea that one day we might be the stranger in need of a kind welcome. Hospitality is an altruistic act. It reminds us to see the other in ourselves and ourselves in the other. Hospitality reminds us that possessions are merely held in trust. How arrogant we humans are to imagine we can own the earth itself. How greedy, how fearful we are, to divert rivers and put up borders. How strange we are to make a line on a map and say that certain people cannot cross that line because they do not have the correct bits of paper in their hands.

I’m reminded of the work of Thomas Paine – regarded as one of the founding fathers of the United States, and a significant figure in 18th century revolutionary politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Thomas Paine wrote: ‘The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.’

Paine regarded himself as a citizen of the world and surely that is what we all are, ultimately, when lines on a map are blown away by the winds of time; no longer identified by our nation states but by our shared human identity. One race, the human race.

Within the human race the fortunes of each human life vary greatly. Vietnamese Buddhist teacher of meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh, writes: “In the end the answer to the oft asked question ‘where do you live?’ is ‘here, anywhere, where I am now’. Your true home is in the here and now. It is not limited by time, space, nationality or race. Your true home is not an abstract idea. It is something you can touch and live in every moment. With mindfulness and concentration… you can find your true home in the full relaxation of your mind and body in the present moment. No-one can take it away from you. Other people can occupy your country, they can even put you in prison, but they cannot take away your true home and your freedom.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is encouraging us to develop a sense of being at home within ourselves, whatever the outer circumstances we find ourselves in. For many of us, this is the developmental task of a lifetime – to build our inner sense of being at home, of self-acceptance, self-care, self-nourishment. Only then perhaps can we fully show hospitality to others. Only then might we understand that there is no ‘other’ for us to fear.

At the end of today’s service we’ll hear Benjie del Rosario sing a beautiful song from the Philippines called My Homeland. Let’s appreciate this oh so human yearning for home, let’s acknowledge the importance national identity has for some people, and let’s work tirelessly to build worldwide connections that transcend the limitations of borders and boundaries. Travelling together, we kindred pilgrim souls on our planet earth, our blue boat home. Amen

Rev. Sarah Tinker

Sermon – 9th July 2017