© by Rev. Alison Wilbur Eskildsen
No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. Simone Weil
Every immigrant can be fully and equally American because we’re one country. Race and color should not divide us, because America is one country. America rejects bigotry. George W. Bush
Remember, home is not simply a house, village, or island; home is an archipelago of belonging. Craig Santos Perez
Reflection: (Given after a telling of The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman)
I’m sure you’re familiar with the book and movie “The Wizard of Oz”. Until I was an adult, I didn’t like Dorothy’s tale of being lost in a land where nothing was familiar and everything was strange – it frightened me. The mob of screeching, angry, flying monkeys made me cover my eyes. I worried about walking among trees for fear I’d be grabbed. I felt as helpless as Dorothy in the face of an evil witch bent on revenge. I was glad to be watching in my safe home.
Classic fairy tales all have a dark side that symbolically address some aspect of human nature. In the “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy transitions from wanting to leave her home, to recognizing the value of belonging to a family and being home. For that to happen, she must learn “there’s no place like home.”
In the story I told earlier, instead of the effects of a tornado that knock Dorothy out, Hassan left home because of war and violence. His story is not a fairy tale for many around the world. Thankfully, many Americans are welcoming families from Somalia, El Salvador, and elsewhere. The relative peace and stability of Europe and North America attracts many who find life impossible in their native lands. This mass movement of people clearly stresses governments and many people’s ability to cope with the rapid influx of different people with unfamiliar cultures, ethnicities, languages, religions, and more. That we in America hold different views about whether our homeland is being threatened with invasion or invigorated by diversity, widens an already immense divide.
More personally or spiritually, this wave of relocations raises a larger question of what it means to belong somewhere, and how a place becomes a home.
I think humans have a basic need to have someplace to call home, whether it’s a hut, a high-rise apartment, or a hundred-acre farm. I believe when we feel at home in a place we feel connected to it. Like a possession, we belong to it and it to us. And when we belong some place, we don’t need to ask permission to be there. We’re no longer guests.
Unfamiliar places don’t feel like home. Don’t make us feel like we belong. Whenever I go into the men’s restroom to fetch replacement toilet paper rolls from the storage closet to put in the other restrooms, I know I don’t belong there.
Familiarity leads to comfort. We feel comfortable in familiar surroundings. Hassan began to feel at home when his picture of his familiar old home was hung on the wall. His past found a place in his present home.
In my own home, I display photos of family and mementos of places I’ve been. I know where things are and I have some control, shared with my husband, over where things go. I have family I love, food I like, and a place to lay my head. My home tells my story through pictures, furnishings, decorations, and even the dust and cobwebs I ignore.
This Fellowship is home, too. Like Hassan’ home, the pictures on the wall here tell our UU and Fellowship story. If you haven’t, check out the Heritage Room. Look at the awards and plaques around the building. You are my UU family, and I am well-fed here—figuratively and literally. Even when we expand the facilities or move the furniture around, it’s still home. It’s a place we want to spend time at, and holds people we want to spend time with.
Just as this room is a sanctuary, a home also serves as a refuge, a place to go when we’re feeling hurt or vulnerable, or just need to be away for a while. For whatever reason, when a home becomes unsafe, the best course may be to leave. And that takes great courage.
The conditions which prompt someone to cross deep waters in a rickety raft or walk across miles of desert with insufficient water are difficult to imagine for those of us living in this relatively stable country, even if our homes are not the richest or our neighborhoods not the safest. Our conditions pale in comparison to what many experience around the world. Photos of Hurricane Dorrien’s destruction of the Bahamas proves this.
Even though my privilege makes it difficult for me to fully imagine life-threatening circumstances, I empathize with those who risk their lives for freedom from such dangers. I don’t appreciate when I see our government adding to the suffering of those wanting to resettle in America. I believe some immigrant entry process is needed, but in keeping with our UU First Principle that affirms every person has worth and should be treated with respect, I believe our treatment of immigrants and refugees must be humane. In my opinion, keeping people locked up for weeks without due process, separating family members without a way to reunite them, and disregarding US and UN asylum laws, is not humane. I believe it is possible to control our borders AND treat people as we would want to be treated, something Jesus and so many other religious leaders urge us to do.
Most of us will likely not feel the need to flee our homes, although some of us have experienced eviction and homelessness. Many of us may have relocated by choice—for college, a job, to be near family, or get away from family. Some of us may be adventurous nomads. But when you arrive someplace new, I’m sure you make the new place feel like home. Maybe you display some keepsakes that tell your story. Maybe hanging a nametag on the fabric tree contributes to feeling at home here. Like the wolf marking his territory, finding a place for your things indicates you belong.
But sometimes our belongings aren’t enough. Sometimes we never feel at home. Could it be that we’re not at home with ourselves? By that, I mean there are times when we’re not comfortable with who we are, how we’re living, or perhaps who we’re with. Maybe we seek something not yet present in our lives. Maybe we focus too much on the past or the future.
Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh says in “Walking Meditation” from his book, Peace Is Every Breath:
“I have arrived; I am home” means I am already where I want to be – with life itself – and I don’t need to rush anywhere, I don’t have to go looking for anything more. “I am home” means I’ve come back to my true home, which is life here in the present moment.”
Home, therefore, is not just our surroundings or where we feel we belong, it is who we are. Like a snail, we are home wherever we go if we are not reliving the past or worrying about the future. We can be at home when we accept who we are or what is now, even if we’re working to change one or both. As an engaged Buddhist, Hanh works every moment to bring peace to the world.
When I ring the inverted bell, or gong, each Sunday morning at the start of the service, it is to bring you home to yourself. To bring your attention to the here and now by letting go of all that distracts you or makes you anxious. Those things will still be there when you leave here, but for a time, you can let go of it. You can feel at peace and at home here.
If you don’t feel at home with yourself, perhaps your presence in this sanctuary is a step towards that. Perhaps your spiritual or religious ideas have not belonged somewhere else. Perhaps your gender identity, sexual orientation, or sex characteristics have kept you from belonging somewhere else. Perhaps your desire to change the world or create the beloved community – heaven on earth – has kept you from belonging somewhere else. Perhaps our welcoming you and making room for you, proves that you can belong here.
Our UU borders are wide. Our arms extend to embrace all who wish to lead a life directed by love of neighbor, love of life, and love for a community that cares for each other as we are, even while we work to be better than we are.
May you feel at home here—so at home that you’ll feel welcome and will welcome others. Maybe you’ll even pick up dirty dishes, replace empty toilet paper rolls, and take out the trash.
Let’s all click our heals together three times, and know, if nowhere else, we are at least home here, where we belong.
May it be so.
Questions for Reflection or Discussion:
- What does home mean to you? How does a place become a home? When does it not feel like home?
- Under what circumstances would you flee your home, especially knowing danger lies ahead of you?
- How did you or your ancestors come to live in this land? How has that story affected your life?