Midweek Musing: going nowhere, going home

On Sunday, I was back at Bainsford Church in Falkirk, leading their gathered worship again. Always a delight, this congregation welcomed me warmly among them for another visit, and promised to have me back for the ladies' group in the new year! Here is the reflection I offered, on Jeremiah 29:1, 4–7 and Luke 17:11–19.

going home, right where we are 

We have heard two stories about finding wellbeing, thriving, where you find yourself to be.

Exiles from Jerusalem find themselves in Babylon.

God says stay, live, grow, flourish. Build houses and live in them. Make yourselves at home. Plant gardens and eat what you grow – invest time and energy in cultivating the land. Be present where you are. Take wives, have children, encourage them to do the same. You will be here for a while, a generation or maybe more. Have compassion on yourselves and each other, continue to love, to care, to hope.

There is wisdom in not struggling against circumstances you cannot change. There is wisdom in positive action that seeks to sustain life: what you can always change is yourself, your attitude, your response.

So, contribute to this city, the city of your captors. Brace yourselves, this is going to take some courage, to see that the welfare of your enemy promotes the welfare of yourselves.

Find wellbeing where you are. Implicit in God’s words, even though God says that God is the one to place the people into exile, is that God is with them even so. In the wisdom of their prophets and poets is the reminder that God’s people can go home right where they are, wherever that happens to be.

Keep praying, God is still listening. Keep praying, God is still present. Keep praying, God is waiting for your presence and attention.

Go home, right where you are.

In the story of Jesus, we find similar themes.

The lepers are in exile, they are outcasts. There is not much they can do to change their circumstances. Until they see Jesus walking by.

Jesus, they have heard, is welcoming people home to human community right where they are, just as they are. These marginalized ones recognise, with wisdom, that they need no longer remain in exile, for with Jesus they will find welcome, restoration, home.

And so with courage, they call out to Jesus, they ask for restoration, for healing, for an end to their exile. What courage, to ask another for help, for the welcome for which you are yearning, the restoration to community that will restore the fullness of your long-diminished humanity.

With compassion Jesus sends them to the priests. Now, he could not send them to the priests if they were still afflicted, so in their turning for the Temple, their affliction is removed. The priests can only perform the rituals to cleanse them for return to Temple worship and community participation if the disease is no longer present. They go, healed, delighted, going home.

There is one who remains, who goes home right here, where he finds himself to be. This one, who is further outside the community than the other nine perhaps, because he is no Jew but a Samaritan, whose holy place is Samaria, not Jerusalem. So perhaps he turned to Jesus for a rite of restoration because the priests were not his priests?

Or perhaps he recognized the invitation for what it truly was, found himself in a different realm with Jesus, and wanted to make it home? The kingdom of God Jesus will go on to describe in the next episode of Luke’s story is a new land, new home, for any who choose to make it so. It will take wisdom to recognise it, courage to turn around and accept the invitation, an invitation offered with compassion for the outcasts and exiles from the world.

An international student at a Scottish university may not be in exile, but even though my ancestry is traceable to this land, I am a foreigner here. I am no exile, because I could go home any time I want, but for the circumstances that keep me here for one more year.

Build houses and live in them, God told the people in Babylon. It’s a costly home, which I did not build, and it’s discomforting at times to live side by side with 18 year old first year undergraduates. I’m not sure I’ve invested quite as much as God seems to encourage the Israelite exiles to do: a PhD has a time limit, so I know I’m living in student accommodation only as long as I am a student. I haven’t stocked the kitchen with appliances or many utensils beyond bare basics, have not purchased extra furniture; however, I have bought rather more books than is absolutely necessary … . Perhaps because books make me feel at home, those storehouses of friends and places to delight and challenge and comfort.

Plant gardens and eat what you grow, God said through Jeremiah to the people. When I arrived in Scotland, I planted seeds wherever I could, seeds of friendship, taking every opportunity to meet new people and connect; seeds of creative potential, attending storytelling performances, open mic nights, poetry events, seeking collaborators and venues for my own creative output; seeds of community connections, meeting people from the Church of Scotland and other traditions, hoping for invitations to preside, preach, tell stories. Much has grown from those seeds, I am happy to say, with a treasure trove of friendships, plenty of creative endeavours, and relationships with many dear congregations.

Now, I haven’t married, or had children. Many fellow students have done one or the other, or both, while in Scotland. Perhaps we could consider the poems and stories I have borne as offspring conceived, incubated, and nurtured in this foreign land.

I hope, as I have offered all I am as storyteller, poet, minister, I have contributed to the wellbeing of the communities in which I have participated, in which I have found a home.

I wrote this poem as a reflection on the experience of landing, of finding myself at home, here where I am:

an unravelling

I let go,
drop to the ground,
a light falling, here,
here I will land.
Until now I have been hovering,
wings beat from flying over land
and sea, land and sea, but
land I did not,
feathers panting,
the landing ready
waiting, but landing
had to wait –
for what? an
invitation? the right
one? moments come,
gone, passed over in the hovering
holding height,
watching, moments
wasted waiting
to be ready
to be here
so to come to earth as one,
not fall in pieces,
dreams and ideas scattering
lost with my direction
until now,
when I let go, float
gently to earth
into breath
to where I am.

From my own experience, and sharing with other international students at the university, it is evident that it takes a lot of courage to face the many and varied challenges of being a foreigner in a strange land. It seems to require more wisdom than any of us think we possess, and so we are grateful for friends, guides, mentors, fellow travellers on this particular path. We often need compassion, for each other, for ourselves, to be gentle and kind with ourselves through experiences that are often incredibly stressful.

I wonder, whether you find yourself to be a foreigner, an outsider in one part of your life or another?

Or perhaps you know someone who does.

What wisdom is needed, what questions are being faced, is there a decision to be made – to stay or to go?

What courage is required? Are there enemies whose welfare must be sought, in order for one’s own welfare to be sought? Does home offer itself in a foreign place, with a boundary to cross, or a turn to make?

What compassion must be shown? For fears and uncertainties? For frailty, for the wounds and scars of the struggle. Compassion to offer ourselves and each other. Compassion to receive from ourselves, from others, from God.

Where do you find yourself right now?

How will you get home, right here where you are?

Wherever you find yourself, there God is, if we will but look and recognise the invitation to come home, right where we are.


Annette Buckley said…
Thanks once more, Sarah. I am trying to find myself 'at home' in this new life, this new ministry, this new way of being. And only 45 minutes away from my previous 'home', but it might as well be another country sometimes. Similarly to you, I have found welcome, and tried to plant seeds...sometimes it's slow going. And I find in reading your thoughts that a home can be nurtured by someone far, far away who reaches out with her wisdom and love. Blessings on you, fabulous woman.
sarah said…
Thank you. May you know the Spirit with you as you unravel, and land in your new home, dear friend xx

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