Not all who wander are lost, penned J.R.R. Tolkien in his poem ‘All that is gold does not glitter.’
But not all who stay put are actually home, either.
On Sunday I visited a different Roma church in Serbia. They had a guest preacher from Sweden who spoke about the Prodigal Son—a sermon that I have probably heard hundreds of times. The pastor had a very stoic, quiet way of preaching—no dramatics or flairs of gesticulation. However, his words were profound and deep, and it was if I was hearing the story for the first time—imagining the father running headlong toward the son.
“How bizarre, how very outrageous, ” I thought, “that Jesus told this parable as a picture of God’s relationship with us.”
For the few days I was in this village, I listened to many stories—stories of heartbreak, stories of searching for healing through witchcraft, stories of survival in the harshest of poverty conditions, stories of abandonment and longing for love, stories of forgiveness and hoping for the ability to forgive.
These are just human stories, really, and the common core is a longing, a searching for safety, love, purpose, and security—and these are words we would hope would define “home.”
The elder brother never left his home in the parable, but we see that he was internally in exile just as his brother was physically in exile. In some ways, it seems like the younger brother had an advantage. His body, mind, and spirit were in unity with the desire to leave home and his father’s embrace—and when he came home, he did so also wholeheartedly and ‘whole-bodily.’
The elder brother was divided—his body at home, but his spirit not able to embrace what ‘home’ meant. That is, to enjoy the full inheritance as his father’s son, safe and secure in his father’s love.
“How then do you bring your body home?” Nouwen asks. “By letting it participate in your deepest desire to receive and offer love.” This quote is a mixture of the two brothers—one was bringing his body home, and the other was being invited to receive and offer love, and so come home internally.
There was a time in my life when I tried to physically run away from the Father, fleeing to Europe in my early 20’s to come to terms with the tragic death of a dear friend and roommate. It was somewhere in Italy where I began the journey ‘home,’ after having an encounter with the pursuing and “running-towards-us” Father.
This kind of homecoming was far easier than the times I have struggled as the elder brother—bodily home but internally not able to enjoy and accept my inheritance.
Not all who wander are lost…
Sometimes it feels that you are traveling on a path you don’t recognize. There is fear and uncertainty, because the way forward is shrouded in the unknown. Faith is the only thing leading you forward.
“Trust is so hard, since you have nothing to fall back on,” says Nouwen. “The new country is where you are called to go, and the only way to go there is naked and vulnerable.”
Maybe you don’t recognize the way because you are going somewhere you have not yet been.
Maybe you are coming home.