It’s something I’ve gotten used to over the years, but, meeting so many new people in the past week at my summer assignment, I’ve been reacquainted with the convoluted process of answering the simple question, “Where are you from?” Because my father was an officer in the Army, we moved every few years, and it’s hard to get across such a variety of homes with the brevity that is expected by such a question. Every once in a while, comparing notes on hometowns leads to a discussion of what it was like to move around so much—being uprooted from friends and schools, being far from extended family, and having to learn a new area and way of living. In all honesty, though, it never seemed very odd or difficult to me, having known nothing else.
A while back I asked my mother about moving around so much as a military wife. She grew up in a small town in rural Ohio, and so picking up and moving every few years was far from normal to her in the way it was to me. I had never sensed any frustration in her about it over the years, apart from some of the stresses of the actual process of moving, and she agreed that it was never a very big issue for her. She had known some military families who could never quite be comfortable where they were assigned because it wasn’t really home. It wasn’t the place they had come from or the place they were hoping to retire. Home was the ideal in comparison with which every other place fell short. My mother never compared our present surroundings with some other ideal place because, for her, home was not about the weather or the accent, or the name of the local grocery store. Home was my father, my brother, and I, and wherever we were the rest would work itself out.
If we, as a family, could make any place on earth our home, how should we orient our lives as Christians to our true homeland in heaven? Were we satisfied with too little, settling for what we had instead of reaching for the true home to which we were called? Does having our true home in heaven mean a constant dissatisfaction with the places of earth? From one perspective, yes it does, for nothing on earth truly compares with the joy and peace of heaven. But that is not the whole story. Fundamentally, heaven is not a place, but a person, or rather three persons. Heaven is communion with the Holy Trinity. While the particulars of heaven and the new creation are shrouded in mystery, at its root heaven is being in the presence of the Holy Trinity. Everything else is just details.
This realization helps us see how the places of this world can become a foretaste of our true home. If we cultivate our relationship with the Holy Trinity, most especially through prayer and the sacraments, we are bringing into this fallen world a little piece of heaven. Just as through love and faith my parents were able to make a home out of wherever we happened to live, we too can transform the place in which we live by turning to God in love.
Image: Edward Hopper, Rooms for Tourists