“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places… where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus said this to his closest companions, as they gathered in safety and comfort to share their final supper, even as he was preparing to go on to the most challenging part of his life. Among the most beloved and well-known bible verses, it has the power to offer such great comfort that most traditional funeral liturgies are incomplete without it.
Of course, as many of us discover sooner or later, the power of these words is not found in the assumption that believing in God “strongly enough” will keep us from grief. Instead, the cornerstone of Christian faith is the belief that God is present with us in all circumstances, as expressed in Jesus’ words, “where I am, there you may be also”. In these words, we also find an expression of hope that there is more to life than what we experience in this present world. I, too, find it comforting to imagine Jesus, who is described in the gospels as an almost homeless man, speaking about such great care with which he prepares the final resting place for us. A place worthy of being called a home. A place that will not only offer rest, but restoration of all that is good and beautiful in every human soul, regardless of what happens to it on “this side of the valley”. Finally, there is also the hope that all our loved ones will dwell there with us, forever reflecting the glory of our Creator. For in God, there is enough room for everyone - making this place a home, indeed.
But where is Jesus now? Is that place “with many rooms, where we might be also” a reference only to our final home, or to somewhere in this world as well? For each one of us, “our own place in the family of things”, in Mary Oliver’s words of her poem "Wild Geese":
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
To each of us, God gives a limited time and limited ways to experience this world: to partake of its joys and sorrows, to experience its peaks and valleys, to be blessed and bless others, and ultimately, walk through its one last valley towards our ultimate home. But also, we are given a call to something larger than ourselves, something that matters for its own sake -- the reality that offers itself to our imagination, whoever we are.
You might remember that Jesus once said that “foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” I wonder if it meant having no specific place of special attachment – meaning that he was, in fact, at home everywhere. Jesus was equally at home in the houses of his followers, in natural settings, in a boat in a storm. Having fewer attachments, material and spiritual, may paradoxically mean a greater sense of security, liberty, and peace wherever he went. Our human limitations will never allow us to be fully like him, but I think we can all aspire to that kind of freedom.
Today, as we are unable to worship inside our churches, it is more important than ever to learn to notice the “thin places” in our worlds. Those eerily spiritual locations that call us to a heightened sense of God’s presence; where we feel peaceful, secure and free, and which inspire us to ponder the purpose of life. Is it your childhood home or your current home? Somewhere you like to travel repeatedly? Associated with a memory? Your canoe at the cottage? Your garden or balcony? How do you recognize it as such - is it a place where you get that strange sense of peace, and feel at rest? A place that serves as a sacramental reminder of the truth that we are all invited to find our home in God, both in the “thin places” of this earth, and in the many mansions that Jesus went ahead to prepare for us in our final, heavenly abode.
There are of course times when each one of us, like Thomas, would wonder and say, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Indeed, how? Is it by being an integral member of this church, a caring parent and spouse, and as a someone who didn’t hesitate to give freely and generously to help the causes perceived important? Yes; but there is more. There is more to our vocation than “being good”, or “walking on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting”. To emulate a homeless Christ, not every one of us is called to become literally poor. However, giving up any idolized attachments to a particular “nest”, or “den” of ours – a church building or a favourite charitable cause, for that matter -- might allow us to notice God’s presence everywhere. I believe that to be at home with God in this life or in the one to come implies more of state than a specific place. It is a state of a perfect union with God, into which all are called; into which, in the words of a simple fisherman from Capernaum, Peter, we all “like living stones, are being built into one spiritual house”.