Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end
-Wendell Berry, from Leavings
Earlier this month, my childhood home of 25 years went up for sale. When it sells, a new story will be written on its walls, and a new set of people will bind themselves to it for a time. If children are born there, they will sleep in the same rooms that I slept in. They will climb the same Maple tree that I climbed. They will find the creaky step in between the kitchen and the hall to the den, and in time, they will learn to step over it if they please. These things they will do amongst others, engaging in the daily rhythms of life, rhythms that the home around them has long since perfected.
I used to believe strongly in the quote “Home is where the heart is.” I still think it holds some water, but my feelings about it have changed over time. Let me explain.
The house I was born into is the only house I ever lived in all the way up until college. And even after college, I returned there for a season, moving out only a month or two before I married my wife. My entire young adult life, aside from a short college season, has been rooted in one place. Home was where the heart was, but both my heart and my home were in one place.
When I finally moved away from home for college, I did more than just move up the road. I moved about 500 miles up the road to attend a small college in Michigan. And in the short amount of time that I was there, I lived in three different homes.
In a sense, I got to put “home is where the heart is” to the test.
When my time in Michigan was finished, I came back to Tennessee and was amazed at what I found. I drove overnight to avoid traffic, so I got to see the sun come up as I came back into the southern states. When I came into the edge of the county where my home was, I was blown away by the amount of green. It was everywhere! And even though I had known those trees and those fields all my life, I realized how much I had forgotten about the place. When I left my home, there was a part of me that stayed behind. It was more than the trees and the curves in the road. There was a part of my self that I had invested into that place, and the place held on to it, like a key that was fashioned specifically for the purpose of opening up that part of me.
When we talk about leaving a place, leave is exactly what we do. There’s a double-meaning in that word leave. In one sense, we can leave a place, as in move from one to another, but in another sense, we must physically leave the place where it is. We can carry a part of the place with us, in our hearts perhaps, but the place itself gets left behind. The only way to recover what that place held is to return there.
In our home, I have a dish that belonged to my Grandmother. I keep it because it reminds me of all the food that she served from it while sitting around her kitchen table. The dish has memories attached to it. It’s a key to those memories, if you will. But the dish itself will never be able to physically take me back to one of those memories, for they are locked away in time. The dish unlocks those memories in a way, but the memories themselves have been left behind.
If you could go out to my Granddaddy’s house today, you wouldn’t find him there. Physically speaking, he is gone. He’s left it behind.
But if you could look at it with a keen eye, you would find that he is still there. As Wendell Berry implied in the quote I mentioned at the beginning, my Granddaddy still belongs to the place. He occupied it for a time, but the place never belonged to him. It was the other way around. If you could go out there today, you would see what I mean. There are nests in the bird houses that he put up, still occupied. There are strawberries in the garden, waiting to be picked. There are grapes on the grapevines, apples on the apple trees, and peach trees waiting for their time to bear fruit. He has left the place, but the place holds a key that unlocks what he left behind.
When Jesus told His disciples that He was going to leave to go prepare a place for them, they were troubled. They knew that he was The Messiah, the one who would restore all things. How could they go on without Him?
Even so, He told them that it was actually for their benefit, because only then could they receive what He was going to leave behind: The Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that would later raise Him from the dead. The same spirit that had come upon Mary prior to His birth. The same Spirit that had been in fellowship with Him and with the father in the beginning.
Paul wrote in his letters that the Spirit is God’s seal on believers, marking them and acting as the down payment of their eternal inheritance. He even states that a believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And indeed, that’s an echo of what Christ said in that same discussion with His disciples when He said that He and the father would come and take residence in the ones who love Him and obey His teaching. Christ, who went into the Most Holy Place as our Great High Priest, tore away the veil that separated us from God’s presence, and thus welcomed us into that place by the cleansing sanctification of His blood.
And so Paul tells us to care for our bodies, these Temples of the Holy Spirit, for they are not our own. This place that we belong to, this Most Holy Place, is the place where the Spirit of the Living God resides, marking us, acting as the key that unlocks what has been lost and what will one day be restored in the greatest of all homecomings.