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.
You have conveyed the nostalgia so well here that I feel it reading your words.
I have lived on both coasts, and in the north and in the south, in the United States. Never in the middle. Never on the prairie. I have read about life there and imagined that I should spend some time there.
I have enjoyed the fiction of Willa Cather, that which is set in the prairie. She was, of course, American, but I think the northern landscape where she lived was much like Alberta. And my favorite winter book is The Children’s Blizzard, another prairie book.
My prairie for now is the desert. And today we hiked across a grassland, a mini-prairie, here in southern California only a few miles from the ocean.
I wonder if you have seen the moon tonight. It is so large and bright. A prairie moon.
Sadly, the moon did not expose itself to us here. To much cloud and drizzle.
Thanks for the post Ryan.
Great Blog! You express so well the feeling that only home brings. I often feel like no matter where I am, I’m somehow both at home in exile. I feel the pain of separation of not being where my roots are–the problem is I have roots in so many places. Born in Powell River where my relatives still are, raised in Nanaimo, 4 years in Abbotsford, and now settling in Richmond. All of these places feel like home…
I’m not sure how to say this, though I hope you would believe that my intentions are fraternal. Further I would hope that you would believe that my intentions are to help discern truths and not to simply provoke arguement for arguements sake…
If this post is meant to infer that the mortification processes, the ways in which we come to be “happy to stay, or happy to leave” are simply a matter of following Jesus with an “arms wide open” optimism, I have concerns.
While I share, in faith, the implied conclusion; the “gift”, as it were of Christ in me, and me in Christ, I think the process is one of “crucifiction” of self and worldly attachments.
Like Abraham, I think we must be prepared to “put to death” our attachments to “Issac”. Like Abraham we musn’t have any forknowledge of, or hope in, reprieve. We must perservere in faith, beyond reason, beyond hope, even beyond scandal.
We will, like Christ have to share in our moment of Gethsamane, in our moment of Calvary. Only then will come the “gift’ of Resurrection.
Only then can any place become home.
Rather than optimism, I think I hear fear and trembling in Ryan’s words, perhaps more than I hear in the quote. At the same time, I think we can associate the words in the quote with the kind of call God made to Abraham, to leave the home of his ancestors and to go to the land God would show him. And I think the feelings of gift and loss that accompany such moves are what Ryan was writing about here.
Thank you, Ken. That is exactly what I was writing about.
“Following Jesus means that you’re happy to stay and happy to leave. Any place can become home…”
Amen. And I think this is so because our home, our security, our well-being is caught up in the person of Jesus Christ. When that is the case, no place is really home – we are citizens of heaven, after all. But instead of despising this lack of home on earth we are really set free to be content, like Paul, regardless of our circumstances or location.