Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me”
When I look at myself, when I really look at myself, I know that while I’m very comfortable with the concept of wings setting me free I am far less comfortable with the idea of roots holding me close. I’ve been thinking about this the last few days. I have always struggled with roots, especially the kind that hold you real close.
I’ve always been a bit of a nomad, a wanderer, a traveller. I have never really settled anywhere. I have lived in my current home in Altrincham for about two and a half years now and it is as long as I have lived anywhere. Even as a child this was the case, we were always on the move. A bit of a butterfly you might say, just floating from flower to flower, but never staying anywhere for very long, never really nesting.
My dad always said there was Romany (Roma) blood in us. I know that he had this romantic view of himself and he certainly had a love of this lifestyle and I can see traces of this in me. Not the love for horses and horse folk, but certainly the nomad, the traveller, the fear of taking root somewhere.
I always remember the story he use to tell of why travellers were always on the move. He says that it was a traveller who hammered in the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet as he was crucified, but for some reason he only used three nails instead of four; a nail in each hand but one nail through both feet, as they were crossed together. He use to say that this fourth nail was why travellers never settled in one place for very long; this fourth nail was always following behind them catching up with them, a bit like those headlights that keep on following us at night, as we drive in the dark...just like headlights on your tail, headlights on your tail...
I am learning the importance of roots, the importance of place, the importance of home. We all need roots, that hold us close, so that we can spread our wings and truly fly free. We all need a nest to fly back to from time to time otherwise we get lost and lonely on our journeys.
I do feel settled these days among the beautiful communities I serve and belong to. I’ve certainly learnt a lot from them about place, commitment and community. I have learnt so much about those roots that hold us oh so close, that are so vital if we wish to fully stretch our wings and fly free. I’m very settled in the community in and around Altrincham and in my little house. I’m sure that the way I live would be too basic and perhaps Spartan for most folk, but I feel at home there. It is my little nest, my little home where I can settle down and rest after a day flying around all over the place. I am finally beginning to understand the importance of home, how vital it is to have roots that hold you close and that the “Romany Rye” that my dad use to sing, is not really for me at all.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about "Groundhog Day" and shared the closing words from the final broadcast of weather man Phil (Bill Murray) near the end of the film. He said:
“When Chechov saw the long winter, it was a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope; and yet we know winter’s only one more step in the cycle. And standing among the people of Punxsutawney basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."
...”Basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts”...those words have stuck with me these last few days. I’ve been thinking about them. It brings to mind a true image of home. It is a loving image, a comforting image and one I am growing to appreciate.
Home is where your heart is and it is also where your hearth is. Yvonne Aburrow (Editor of the Unitarian) recently told me that the ancient Romans “viewed the hearth as the centre or focus of the home. It was where the family offerings to the family gods were made.”...she went on to say...”I think a room is incomplete without a hearth or an altar to focus it and in some rooms, the TV is the focus instead of the hearth-fire.”
I wonder what the main focus of people's homes are...the focus of my home and my life is so many ways is my laptop...
Home is where the heart and where your hearth is, even if that is a laptop. And as they say there is no place like home. When I think of the nomad, the traveller who wants their wings set free, but without the roots to hold them close, I always return to Dorothy and “The Wizard of Oz”. In the film she begins by singing of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” a place away from the drudgery, of the mundainity, of life where wings could set her free, but at the end she clicks those ruby slippers and says those immortal words. "There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like"
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” Dorothy has been on a spiritual journey and encountered all manner of fascinating friends along the way. She has also fought off enemies who wanted to destroy her. She has experienced and learnt so much, but in the end she just wants to return home. She needs those roots to hold her close, because her wings have become tired.
For many home is the embodiment of safety and acceptance, the heart and the hearth of a loving family. Robert Frost wrote that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Sadly this is not the case for everyone, for many people home and family is not a place of safety at all. In fact it is a place of struggle and suffering.
Home is a tiny word but a powerful one and one so rich in meaning. It is a word that can hold such dreams of possibilities or nightmares of hurt. It is more than a physical place it is an idea, a feeling, a vision. It is something that we carry with us as we journey through life; it is not just something that we seek. For some it is a place that they are fleeing from, a place of repression and not a place of loving possibility.
Shelter is of course a basic human need. Something that people are seemingly increasingly being denied, homelessness is once again on the increase in this country. Some estimates claim that as many as 1 million people live without a permanent residence. To have somewhere to lay your head at night is a basic human need. We all need a place to cook, to eat to care for each other and yet increasingly people are finding themselves devoid of this basic need.
That said “home” is more than a physical place, you do not need to be physically homeless to experience a sense of homelessness. When Dorothy says “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”, she is longing.
I suspect that it is the tension between the roots that we need to hold us close and those wings that we wish to spread to set us free that drive us to find true home. We all need connection and we all need freedom, our souls cry out for both. A true home offers this. The true home, the ideal home offers us the promise of wholeness; it offers both solitude and connection. A place where we can warm ourselves by hearth and hearts can dream of what they truly desire. Home is where the heart and the hearth is.
A sense of belonging is vital to a happy and healthy life. We need roots that can hold us close so that when we fly off on our next adventure we can spread our wings and fly free. To me this is the purpose of free religious communities like the two I serve. To me this is the purpose of true religion; a place where no one need be alone; a place that anyone can call home; a place that binds up the whole and the broken; a place that brings glad tidings; a place that offers space to spread your wings; a place where you can fly free. At the beginning of the “Wizard of Oz”, while she was still in Kansas, Dorothy sings of a place where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”. To me this is the purpose of spiritual community, a place where such dreams can come true.
I know I’ve found a home among the beautiful people of Altrincham and Urmston and I offer thanks and praise for this. I believe that it is the task of communities like these to be places of open hearts and hearths so that people can truly feel at home there. As I look forward I believe it is our task is to create together a place where the roots are stretched out far and wide and people can be held close so that they can spread out their wings and be set free...