O Lord, you will ordain peace for us,
for you have indeed done for us all our works. Isa 26:12
Katie and I just returned from three weeks in India, traveling with students. And our trip was filled with all the color, noise, spice and aroma you might expect. We have come to love the subcontinent, both India and Nepal; we have built relationships and, after several trips, come to appreciate the way things work there. Or don’t.
Hospitality is culturally ingrained, which is part of what we experience and love. But so is uncertainty. For this reason, travel is stressful as well as rewarding. Stretching would be the right word, at least if you value personal growth. This trip was more stretching than the several others we have taken. The students had more health issues, and not all of them chose India freely (by the time they registered, it was the only option left.) Our itinerary was full, there were unexpected schedule changes, and then there were the seven flights. Getting 16 students through international and foreign airports is one of the most stressful parts of the job for me, and twice we barely made our gate in time.
I came back exhausted and picked up an intestinal bug on our way out. So it was good to be home again. But by home, I don’t mean a house on Cochran Road, or a church in Jonesville. I’m coming to understand home as simply the place you can rest. The idea that home is not a physical place is not new to me. Pilgrimage has long been a central metaphor for how I understand a life of faith. But what I am coming to understand more and more is that what the pilgrim seeks is not just a truer home but a deeper rest.
Many people have a house who don’t have a home, of course. It’s not home unless there is peace and you can rest, because what we really long for is not a roof over our head, but a haven for our heart. The rest we need is not physical, but rather the freedom from the uncertainties and activities and expectations that fill our days.
That’s why I can experience “home” in this sense on a mat my friend Upendra has spread on a concrete floor where 18 of us can rest while waiting for our flight out of Kolkata. Home in this sense is the certainty that food will appear and the cab will arrive because he is taking care of those details and I can depend on him and his daughter and his niece and their warm and gracious hearts.
A welcoming place to rest is home in the best sense, and foreshadows a better rest to come, a true sabbath, for “whoever has entered God’s rest has also rest for his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:10).” For such rest you need Upendra. Or better yet, the God he serves and emulates. We will never be at home until we can trust him to take care of the details.
In his new book On the Road with Saint Augustine, James K.A. Smith explores the idea of pilgrimage as being more like that of a refugee who is looking for a new home than of the pilgrim who is going to some shrine and will then return home. If this is true, home is not the place we started. It is the rest we seek. This “refugee spirituality” means we are leaving everything behind in search of a place that is more welcoming, a place we can rest, where certainty replaces uncertainty and hope replaces fear. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had an opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Hebrews 11:15-16, ESV).“
“We are not just pilgrims on a sacred march to a religious site; we are migrants, strangers, resident aliens in route to a homeland we have never been to before,” Smith writes, noting that we are not alone but have joined a caravan of those who are looking for a place where we are welcomed and cared for. “Your hometown is the place you are made for, not simply the place you come from,” he says.
This understanding frees us from the anxious stress of material concerns. It allows us to acknowledge our need of others and to rest in God’s covenantal care. It is ultimately not about finding our place, but about being found. Smith says, “Joy is arriving at the home you’ve never been to.” Or as Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Perhaps joy is arriving at rest you have never experienced. When I got back from India, I wanted a long shower. Maybe even a hamburger. But the thing I really wanted was rest. This is what we all crave. It’s a good thing, too, since it reminds us that, like Abraham, we are still “ looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10, ESV).” What He is building and designing is a place to rest, but there are glimmers of it everywhere, not just in the house where we live but in the strangers we meet and the friends they become.
I’m thinking of Smeeta and Abhishek in Mumbai who is creating a safe place for victims of human trafficking, or Kitu, Moses, Thomas and Dr. Jabez near Hyderabad who manage a residential college for lower caste Indians to study business and learn English, or Nayan and Pasang in Darjeeling whose care for their village creates the homestay experience we find so refreshing or Upendra whose business profits are funding a home for elderly women whose families have abandoned them because of their involvement in the sex trade. Each of them is creating a place where people can rest, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. Each of them is creating a “home,” not just for others but for me.
They focus on details so I can focus on the job at hand. But more importantly because of the way they welcome me and support me when I am with them I can rest.
That’s home. And there is no street address.