“Son, no matter where you live or how far you may roam,
Tennessee will always be your home.”
This has been my dad’s mantra to me ever since I was in the crib. A South Carolinian for nearly 30 years, he admirably remains loyal to his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. Growing up, life was painted in Tennessee orange. I knew all the words to Rocky Top before I learned Amazing Grace, and “TOUCHDOWN! TENNESSEE!” was a cry that brought me more joy than the arrival of Santa.
Our family was a drop of oil in a lake filled with Clemson fans, and it was only on the occasional visit to see our family in east Tennessee that we saw fellow Volunteers. Stores in and around Knoxville were filled with the T-bearing flags, shirts, water coolers, license plates, hats, bumper stickers, or anything else that we needed to stock up on. Throughout town, people visibly supported the team I once thought was cheered for in the Fisher household alone.
Going to a foreign place usually wrought havoc on my home-bodied sensitivity as a kid, but not Tennessee. Even though I was 3 hours away from my house and didn’t know anyone but my own kin, the sight of fellow Volunteers assured me that my dad was right. This was home. Streets that should have been alien felt familiar, and would-be strangers (so long as they were wearing the right color orange) seemed like immediate friends.
When we try to describe Heaven, we quickly realize that it’s impossible. We know that the intellect will be fully satisfied by Truth itself and the will by Goodness itself, charity will reign supreme, and all will be sustained by the One Who Is. Needing nothing and seeing everything in his light, we will be made partakers in God’s perfect happiness. This fullness of infinite perfection remains truly unfathomable. How could one even begin to imagine it?
On the other hand, God and Heaven aren’t philosophical pursuits that lead us to throw our hands up in confusion. Surely, he who took on our very nature wants a closer relationship with us than a metaphysical thought experiment. Yes, God will still surpass our expectations so that whatever we say about him will seem like straw, but that shouldn’t stop our frequent reflection on our eternal home.
Tennessee isn’t Heaven (sorry, Dad), but there’s at least a small parallel here. God generously gives us a glimpse of himself in this life with every grace we receive. In the lived Christian experience (prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, works of mercy, etc.) we grow closer to him along the way. We know him more so that we can love him more, and in loving more we know more and then love more again. We hope to repeat this cycle until we die.
I imagine that when we arrive at our final stop on the journey (presuming that we have journeyed well…), there will be a strong scent of familiarity to it all. Would-be strangers will become our closest brothers and sisters. Life questions that have mystified us will become apparent. Every minute amount of truth, goodness, beauty, or charity that we have experienced will be present in their utmost perfection in God. In whatever newness this entails, we certainly won’t be strangers in a foreign place.
Perhaps our heavenly Father will say,
“Son, no matter where you lived or how far you have roamed,
Image: The Fisher family front porch in South Carolina (Copyright © 2017 Sandy Fisher. Used with permission.)