I’ve had the opportunity to travel back to my hometown in southern Alberta twice over the last month or so, once for a late Christmas and once for a funeral. A small town on the prairies was home for virtually all of my first thirty years until we left four and a half years ago to begin graduate studies in Vancouver. Going back always feels good and often leads to interesting times of reflection.
Since returning from our latest trip to the prairies I have been surprised to notice just a touch of nostalgia has set in. Perhaps the experience of being together with members of a large extended family made me appreciate my roots more. Perhaps it comes from a deep, barely acknowledged subterranean need to connect with one’s roots in our postmodern, rootless times. Perhaps it’s some combination of these things and others I’m not even aware of. Perhaps it’s just one of those things that comes with getting a bit older.
Of course there are wonderful things about the west coast; we have thoroughly enjoyed our three years in Vancouver and our first year and a half on Vancouver Island. There’s an awful lot to like about this beautiful corner of creation and I am grateful for the opportunity to discover it. But the prairies still feel like home—the wide open spaces, the harsh climate, the seemingly endless horizons, and of course the people. I have decades of history there. The prairies are in my bones.
A while back I read a great essay by Mark Buchanan that touches on our longing for home (in the geographical and the spiritual sense of the term) and I have reread it a few times since returning from our trips back to the prairies. I wish I could find a link to the article online because it really is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a great quote from “Growing Up Here, and There” in Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada:
Following Jesus means that you’re happy to stay and happy to leave. Any place can become home, and none. Jesus helps us love the earth more and the world less. He deepens our capacity to cherish and relish things and yet slowly weans us from our cravings, our dependencies, our expectations. He mends us in places we didn’t know we were broken and breaks us in places where, before his advent, we were utterly content. We start to enjoy more and demand less. Almost everything feels like a gift, not a possession, not an entitlement. He teaches us to live with our hands open, wide open, and our arms, too, so that we receive more but lose more as well.
Home is where the heart is, I suppose, and maybe all that means is that “home” looks and feels different at various points on each of our journeys. The communities we are born into often shape who we are in profound and formative ways, but everywhere we go leaves its mark on us. We will likely have many homes and, if we are fortunate, the best features of each place we have pitched our tents will blur together into a good and life-giving whole.
In other words, Buchanan might just be right. Anyplace can become home. Any place, and whatever point in our journey it represents, can be received, with hands open, as a gift.