More than anything else, we long for home. Our deep ache for intimacy, security, and comfort is, in the end, a longing for home, nothing more. We are forever restlessly searching for someone or something to take us home.
But what is home? Is home a family? A house? A city? A country? A lover? A language? An ethnic group?
Home transcends all of these. We can find a home in many different families, houses, cities, countries, ethnic groups, and languages, and we can be far from home within our own family, house, city, country, and ethnic group.
Home is a place in the heart, not a bloodline, building, city, or ethnicity. Home is that deep, fragile place where we hold and guard what’s most precious to us. It’s that place where, in some dark way, we remember that once, before we came to awareness, we were caressed by hands far gentler than any we’ve met in this life and where we were once kissed by a truth and a beauty so perfect that they are now the unconscious standard by which we measure everything. Home is where things “ring true”, where what’s most precious to us is cherished, the place of tender conscience, of intimacy.
And we know when we’re there and when we’re not. Home is a gut feeling, a resting place, a goodness, a security that we sense or don’t sense.
Sometimes people ask me: “How do I know that the love I have for a person is the kind of love that I can build a marriage on?” My answer: “Love is a mystery and there are no guarantees, but, ask yourself this: `Does this person bring me home? Or, is this a love, irrespective of how powerful and exciting it is, from which I need eventually to go home?'” There’s a huge difference between sharing powerful feelings with someone and building life and a home with him or her. There’s a huge difference between an affair and a marriage, between having a honeymoon or building a life with someone. Many kinds of kinds of love make for a honeymoon, but only one kind takes us home.
And then, after we’ve found home, we still have the problem of staying there. This isn’t meant literally, but in a deeper way. How?
In the Gospels, immediately after he denies Jesus, we are told that Peter “went outside”. What’s being described here isn’t a simple physical movement, someone stepping through a door and going outside. What’s meant is that Peter went outside of himself, outside of who he is, outside of his conscience, outside of his normal understanding of things. He “went outside” in the way a man “goes outside” when he goes to a singles’ bar and links up with someone in a way that takes him “outside” of his normal moral reality.
And from that, he has to go home. Why? Because, like Peter, he has “gone outside”. What a person does in any morally schizophrenic act, in essence, takes him or her away from home (even if that act is done in his or her own house). Morally and psychologically the act is done away from home. It’s done “outside”.
There’s a crude joke that catches this. It asks: “What do promiscuous people do after they have sex?” The answer: “They go home!” That expresses a sad irony: Sex is not something from which we are ever meant to go home. It’s meant to take us home, to constitute home. Intimacy is home and if we need to go home from an experience that’s an infallible sign that what we’ve experienced isn’t ultimately life giving for us.
And this has huge implications for understanding life: In the Gospels, Jesus says: “To you [inside the circle of understanding] are revealed the secrets of the Kingdom, but to those outside everything is in riddles.” Who’s “inside” and who’s “outside” the circle of understanding? Who “gets” the secret and who doesn’t “get” it?
“Getting” or “not getting” the secret is not a question of intelligence, learning, luck, or finding the right books or teachers. Rather, we are “inside” the circle of understanding and we “get” the Gospels when we are at “at home”, when we are true to what’s deepest in us, when we are true to our consciences, when we don’t morally “go outside” (as did Peter and as we do when we do acts that, morally, aren’t true to who we are). When we are morally faithful, we “get” the Gospel.
Conversely, we “don’t get” it when we “go outside”, outside morally, when we “leave home” by being unfaithful as Peter was.
And we know this truth from experience: When we’re faithful, the Gospels make sense. When we’re unfaithful, almost immediately, we fill with objections, grow bitter, and begin to poke holes into truths we once believed.
T.S. Eliot once said, “Home is where we start from.” It’s also the place from which we understand what does or does not bring us life.