Recently I had the experience of returning home only to find that home wasn’t home anymore. Going back to live in Western Australia for nearly two years, I found that although nothing much had changed, everything had. The transformation was subtle, practically unseen, occurring over many years. It seems that as we change over the years, old connections can fall away without us even knowing, so that when we go looking for those old points of contact, we’re shocked to discover they don’t crackle the way they used to. Some wicks just burn out.
This points, I think, to the strangeness of what it means to call a place ‘home’. Home is so much more than the physical sum of its parts—more than the roof over our heads or the creature comforts we rely on daily. Families may live in many different houses over the years but still refer to a wider place—like Melbourne—as ‘home’.
So many of our common stories are about the journey home. Odysseus fought tooth and nail to get himself home in The Odyssey, fending off the greedy suitors who sought to take his place.
And arguably one of the most important aspects of The Lord of the Rings is the journey home. Having completed their quest, the hobbits return to the Shire, only to find it no longer feels like the home they left. It’s not so much that their home has changed; they have changed. Frodo can’t make a home there anymore because he’s seen too much, done too much, been changed too much. The only place left for him is the Gray Havens.
The Hebrew Bible is filled with stories of homes broken, lost or left in search of new ones. The early chapters of Genesis, for instance, evoke strong images of home. When we read that God rested on the seventh day, we have the sense that this is the rest of someone who has finally put their house in order; whose stuff is organised, whose furniture is set, whose possessions are finally in place. Only once a house is properly established can we truly rest within it; only then can we truly call it home. (And since the creation of man and woman occurs after everything else, we can extrapolate further: finally, the home is ready for us to welcome those with whom we want to relax and connect. A home, ultimately, is to be shared.)
This interpretation of Genesis shouldn’t surprise us. The story of the Incarnation is also the story of a God who makes a home for himself. ‘The Word was made flesh,’ John tells us, ‘and lived among us’ (John 1:14). The Greek literally means ‘tabernacled among us’ or ‘pitched his tent’. God came, found a spot and made himself at home. But John’s account also has a tragic twist: ‘He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him’ (1:11). God returned to his own home only to find nobody recognised him.
God continues to seek a home within us. Every time we eat of the Eucharist, we say, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ The same Word that spoke the universe into existence is placed on our tongue and comes under our roof—a ‘saving guest’, as the old hymn puts it.
I’ve always struggled to inhabit the season of Advent and make it my own, but this year the notion of home is really coming to the fore. It’s a connection I’ve lost over the years, having spent the last decade wandering Australia as a single man without roots, and am only now beginning to rediscover in the wake of having a family.
A home is not just found; it is created. To create a home is to participate, in some strange way, in God’s own act of creation, because that’s what creation was always supposed to be—a home, a dwelling place for God and his people.
There’s a lovely Advent tradition, originating with the Irish, of leaving a burning candle in the window. It’s thought that it started as a secret signal to Catholic priests, letting them know a particular home was safe for them to come to and say Mass. Over time it evolved to become a sign for anyone in need of shelter or food, indicating that this home was open and they were welcome.
The writer of Hebrews says, ‘Let mutual love endure, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this some people have entertained angels without knowing it’ (13:1).
The point of a home is to be a place of mutual love—a love that is shared, a love that can breathe life into the hearts of those who really need it. Maybe this Advent we can find new ways to keep the candle in the window burning so that our homes might put people in contact once again with their true, eternal home. We all lose touch with it from time to time, but if a good home can be a taste of heaven, why not share it?
Safeguarding Unit31 January 2023
Melbourne Catholic30 January 2023