Not all homecomings work out the way we hoped. I remember once, a long time ago, when I was just 20 years old, my homecoming turned out to be a bit of a bust. I’d been travelling for months, using the UK as my home base, when I began experiencing pain in my foot. Because I had been doing some strenuous hiking in the Scottish Highlands, the doctors assumed that I had something known as a hiker’s fracture. So they put my foot in a cast and told me to take it easy for six weeks. Well the cast didn’t last for more than a week, when my foot became so swollen that I had to rush back to the doctor to beg him to take it off. One look at my foot and the doctor, quickly cut the cast off and just as quickly sent me for x-rays. I can still see the doctor’s face looking so very serious as he told me that my foot was not fractured and then he paused, during which time, I assumed that he would tell me that my foot was broken. Never in a million years did my young self imagine what would come next. The x-rays revealed a tumour, and after several more tests it was determined that the tumour was surrounded by a massive hemangioma. I would need surgery in order to remove both the tumour and the hemangioma. Only after the surgery would they be able to determine if the tumour was cancerous or benign. Did I mention that I was only twenty and far from home? All I wanted to do was rush back to my family. Home was the only thing on my mind, when the doctor’s voice interrupted my thoughts by saying, “I don’t think you understand my dear. You need surgery now, right away.”
I thanked the doctor for his concern and left his office to begin the long process of going home. It was the middle of December and most of the fights which I could afford, were fully booked by Christmas travellers. It wasn’t easy, but less than a week after learning that my own foot was threatening to change my life, I boarded a plane to rush back home to my family. On the long plane ride back to Vancouver, I dreamed of what it would be like to be back.
But there was just one thing that my dreams of home couldn’t conjure up and that was the reality that during my absence, my parents had moved to a new house. The home which I left behind was no more. My parents had moved to a town about ten miles from where they had been living, the house, the home that I knew was no more. It had only been a matter of months, but in that short time, so much had changed, not only could I not return to my familiar home, I could no longer be the carefree young woman that I was when I left home.
When you fly from London to Vancouver, you don’t fly directly from east to west. You take more of a northwest by southwest route over the North Pole. To this day, I can still remember looking out that tiny little window and wondering what lay below our flightpath. Miles and miles, and miles of frozen sea, and snow-covered lands. Looking back through my mind’s eye, I can see now that I was in a wilderness of fear. For just as soon as that plane landed, the reality of my existence would change in ways which truly frightened me.
That airplane was a kind of portal from one world into another, a liminal space or as the ancient Celts called it a Thin Place; a place in which the barriers between the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being fall away and we are opened to the reality of DIVINITY which lives and moves in, with, through and beyond us.
Back then, I still imagined God as some sort of supreme being who managed the world from some lofty place somewhere. I had no doubt whatsoever that this interfering deity had placed the tumor in my foot for some divine purpose and that my task was to figure out what it was that this god was trying to teach me. These days, my imaginings of the DIVINE MYSTERY no longer include images of a manipulative, interfering, supreme being, who stoops so low as to place tumours anywhere in Creation. So, looking back my questions surrounding my frightening homecoming are not about what some grand puppeteer in the sky was trying to teach me, but rather, what it is that I can learn from my long ago experiences which can shed light upon what is happening all around us. For there have been moments during the past six months when I have longed to go home to the world we knew before the pandemic sent us all scurrying into the wilderness of fear into which the whole world has found itself confined to.
It has been six months since we gathered together in the sanctuary and I have been leading worship from my home while the internet transmits this new reality into your homes. I can’t tell you how very much, I’d love to spend this Homecoming Sunday in the shared home of our sanctuary. But even if by some miracle, we could go back, I suspect that such a homecoming would be very much like my long-ago homecoming. I remember walking into my parents’ living room in their new home, and while there was so much that was familiar, everything felt so very different. Not only was I in a different house; I was different, changed by all that had and was happening.
When the time comes for us to return to our shared home, I suspect that while the place may look familiar, you and I we will be different, changed by all that has happened and all that will happen before we can find our way back to our sanctuary. So, what might we learn from the pandemic wilderness in which we find ourselves? Can this pandemic wilderness be for us a portal of sorts, a Thin Place; a place in which the barriers between the LOVE in which we live and move and have our being fall away and we are opened to the reality of DIVINITY which lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us?
One thing the world is beginning to learn in the wilderness of this pandemic is that the home which we long for may not have been as wonderful as we’d like to remember it. Liminal spaces, Thin Places have this ability to reveal what’s actually there. Look around this pandemic wilderness and you cannot help but see the true horrors of so many of the systems which were designed to keep some homes safe while other homes perished. Look around this wilderness and you cannot fail to notice the house is actually, quite literally, on fire.
Climate change may have lit flames but only we can open our eyes and see. Hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, floods, and I kid you not, plagues of locusts and even murder hornets litter our shared home, this sacred sanctuary we call the Earth. This pandemic wilderness has given us a unique view of the systemic injustice which lies deep within our precious structures like tumours which we can no longer claim are benign.
Poverty, racism, sexism, fascism, and rampant neglect are threatening the lives of too many millions of our sisters and brothers. As much as we long to return home to life before the pandemic, this pandemic wilderness, this Thin Place has revealed a kind of dry rot which once you know it is there, it’s like a tumor which cannot be ignored.
We cannot go back home again; at least not home to the way things were, because the way things were, simply weren’t working in oh so many ways. So, what are we to do? Even Jesus is said to have spent only 40 days in the wilderness and we’ve been here for six months. Surely, we cannot stay in this wilderness forever! If we can’t go back and we don’t know how or when we’ll be able to go forward, what are we supposed to do in the confines of this pandemic wilderness?
I remember standing dressed in nothing but a hospital gown, wondering just where and how I was supposed to find the courage to stay in the hospital long enough for the doctors to do what needed to be done. I had no desire to return to my old life, and I had no idea what my new life was going to look like. I remember standing for a very long time feeling very betwixt and between. It may have been something they gave me to relax, but in time the only thing that I was aware of was my breath. In and out. In and out. In and out. Breathe.
Years later, I can imagine Jesus in his wilderness, breathing. In and out. In and out. In and out. Looking back at my younger self, I can almost feel the ONE in whom, I live and move and have my being, breathing in, with, through, and beyond me. In and out. One breath at a time. I can imagine Jesus in his wilderness feeling the ONE in whom we all live and move and have our being breathing in, with, through and beyond him. I wonder if the depth of his breathing took Jesus back to the sure and certain knowledge that he was beloved by the ONE who IS LOVE ITSELF. Something akin to LOVE surely provided the strength to get up off the desert sand and take a step toward all that was to come. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time. It was very much like that after my surgery. Breathing deeply through the pain allowed me to learn to take one step at a time.
As we look around this pandemic wilderness there will be much which looks familiar and much which will be revealed. As we look back at what is left of the home we once knew, we will need to take deep breathes as we ponder those things which are worth salvaging, those things we need to leave behind, and those things which need rebuilding. Where will we find the strength in this wilderness to find our way home? Breathe, in and out, in and out, in and out. Breathe deeply of the ONE who breathes in, with, through, and beyond us, trusting that that ONE is the LOVE in which we live, and move, and have our being, the LOVE which is our home. Breathe and feel very much at home in the LOVE with is the MYSTERY which we call God. Breathe and let each and every breath give you the strength to be LOVE in the world. So that in, with, through and beyond you and I, new homes will emerge. Homes built not out of fear of the wilderness, but homes built from the WISDOM gained by all those who have the courage to venture deeply into the wilderness. Let it be so among us. Let it be so.
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