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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: home

Where I'm From

jenmichel@me.com

I'm excited to tell you about a collection of essays, stories, and poetry from the women of Redbud Writers Guild, which releases next week! Each contribution ends with a prayer as well as a writing prompt. My own essay, "The Tamarisk," is an exploration of the longing for permanence in a rented life. I look at the life of Abraham for how we can "begin seizing the invitation of the in-between places: find solid ground. There is greater permanence than a permanent address . . . The God of Abraham—not the land, not the son—is himself the reward (Gen. 15:1)." But I'm not here to share with you my essay. For that, you'll need to buy the book! Rather, I'd love to share with you a poem written by Nilwona Nowlin. Nilwona is a redemptive artist, someone who believes in the power of the arts to bring about positive transformation in individuals and communities. She is particularly passionate about helping people discover/pursue their purpose, leadership development, and ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice such as community development, reconciliation, and intercultural development. Recent publications include "To Save Many Lives: Exploring Reconciliation Between Africans and African Americans through the Selling of Joseph," for the Covenant Quarterly as well as devotionals for the Covenant Home Altar.

Nilwona is also a regular contributor to for the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) Commission on Biblical Gender Equality's blog and the lmdj Voices blog of the ECC's Love Mercy Do Justice mission priority. Nilwona earned a B.A. from Columbia College Chicago, an M.A. in Christian Formation and Certificate in Justice Ministry from North Park Theological Seminary and a Master’s in Nonprofit Administrationfrom North Park University. She blogs at thedreamerspeaks.com. You can follow Nilwona on Twitter @nilwona.

The entire text of Nilwona's poem, "Where I'm From," can be found here.

Breaking the Bread of Belief: The Ache of Home

jenmichel@me.com

Home Image courtesy of Joetography

“What would you say if [insert name of major technology company] hired me to lead their insurance brand?”

My reaction to Ryan’s question startles me.

“I don’t know. Where are they headquartered?’

California, of course. And then I’m lost in reverie, wondering how well I’ll fit into California. I plan to lose weight.

What surprises me is that I am not terrified at the thought of moving again, of packing up the house and making life elsewhere, no matter how desperate my desire for home sometimes feels.

For the bulk of my life, I’ve been a nomad. I was born in Indiana, and we followed my father as he finished graduate work (Missouri, Ohio) and moved systematically from assistant professor (Eastern Tennessee) to associate professor (Western Tennessee). All that packing up and making life elsewhere: our family incurred the debt of uprootedness for a career my father would ultimately abandon - because teaching communications at small liberal arts’ colleges isn’t the easiest way to fund a child’s college education. My father ended up with white-collar executive work that paid that bills (and, by the way, failed to fund happiness). We settled in Ohio. My mother is still there. But my father is not. I was nearly nineteen when he died, twenty-three when my brother followed him.

There’s no place like home, it is said.

But this is the refrain aching in me: there’s no place that’s home.

Home is so fundamental to what I long for. My best friend from high school was born in the town where we went to high school and returned there before giving birth to her first children (twins). These last ten years, she has remained there, making, what feels to me, the most fondly familiar life. Although I do not regret missed occasions of spontaneously running into the boys I dated in high school (here’s where an international border is something of great comfort), I feel envious of her stability. She has something I have never had and may never will: she belongs to a place. She has permanence. I feel myself almost covetous for it.

There’s no place that’s home.

And here we are, Ryan and I and our five children, making home together in a country that is not our own. We may wish to stay, but it will not ultimately be ours to decide.

I wonder: will home forever be this contingent? This provisional?

The aching again.

And then Easter week. The Scripture readings. I’ve read these passages a thousand times. I find myself doubting I will perceive anything new.

But the Spirit sets afire the words, and they roar into blaze. It is Monday. We are gathered as a family after dinner, around the table, around the Words.

Jesus presides over his last meal with his disciples.

“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

Maybe it’s the word, desired, that catches my attention. What has Jesus desired in these last moments before his betrayal? What are his longings, and how does he ache?

He desires a meal. He longs for communion around a table. And he sees this final meal as the anticipatory act of another meal. “I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And suddenly, it’s upon me that salvation (to use a word that feels religiously odd and abstract) is a homecoming.

Think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The theologians tell us that this Parable may have been Jesus’ most important. He was giving us a way to understand God, a way of understanding ourselves, a concrete means for putting categories to the abstraction of this religious idea: we must be saved?

The story tells us of the lost son. He skips town, having demanded his inheritance and dishonored his father. It speaks of the older brother, corrupted by his pride and self-righteousness. And it insists upon a father, whose patient and hopeful mercies are his own means of humiliation.

The father awaiting the homecoming.

Will home always feel this contingent? This provisional? And these are the questions that the Easter people know how to answer.

No.

Because Jesus has eagerly desired to eat a meal with us. He’s gone to prepare the table. But to set the table with wine and bread, it would be necessary to break his own body and spill his own blood.

Because someone has to pay for the spoiled inheritance and the Father’s dishonor. Good Friday is necessary for Easter, a sacrifice essential for the meal.

“For I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my fathers.” Psalm 39:12

I, the guest: and Jesus has eagerly desired my company at his feast.

Is this the Easter story? And my salvation an eternal homecoming?

We may move to California. We may stay in Toronto. Or Chicago may call us back. I will fear the contingencies and regret the nomadic legacy, wishing for more permanence and feeling the ache of home.

But in all that longing, I will think of the future feast.

To be shared in the city of God.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. And Christ will come again.

* * * * *

This is the third in a series of posts entitled, "Breaking the Bread of Belief."

1. "First Words of Faith"

2. "Lenten Faith in Dust"

Holy Desire's Reconciliations: And St. Augustine's Confessions

jenmichel@me.com

Holy desire depends on acts of reconciliation. To want well, we must first learn to want God.

Which is first to say this: we must be taught to want. We don’t come naturally to holy desire. We don’t roll out of bed and instinctively pick up the will to live in and for and through Christ. No, if you’re like me, your most immediate thought upon waking (after, coffee!) is: I want this day (and ultimately my life) to go my way.

Holy desire has to be formed. And indeed, it is formed in each of us as we ourselves are, through conversion and communion with Christ, re-formed.

If anyone is in Christ, the old is gone, decreed Paul. The new has come!

New desires. A new will. Reformed ambitions and plans.

Yes, this is at the heart of spiritual transformation. Not simply that upon conversion, we come to new beliefs and new behaviors – but that, as those who are made new, we are oriented toward new loves.

This is an old idea, and Augustine, fourth-century Bishop of Hippo, is probably most credited with promoting the idea that our spiritual lives depend on holy desire. (I’m rereading The Confessions, which I can’t recommend highly enough for understanding where I began: Holy desire depends on acts of reconciliation.)

The confessions

Augustine understood that desire itself is not the problem. We aren’t wrong to want. Indeed, none of us can actually stop wanting. The real problem resides in our “disordered loves.” Either we love wrong things or we love right things in wrong ways, and we must learn to seek that which really satisfies.

Augustine knew that we must love God as our supreme good if this life – and our desires – were ever to know something beyond disappointment, something of satisfaction.

If we mean really to flourish, to be truly “happy,” we must be reconciled to our Creator, understanding that He is the source of what Jesus called, “living water.” He himself. (“You will never thirst again,” Jesus promised the Samaritan woman, cf. John 4.)

“Without you,” Augustine asks, “what am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”

Augustine knew how easily we want things that bankrupt us, how diligently we pursue the pleasures, which are only ever promissory notes.

“Transient things . . . rend the soul with pestilential desires; for the soul loves to be in them and take its repose among the objects of its love. But in these things there is no point of rest: they lack permanence.”

Until we desire God first and him fully, we are the wanderers. Tim Keller describes it like this: “No matter what we put our hopes in, in the morning, it is always Leah, never Rachel.” (See Gen. 29:25)

So the first act of reconciliation required of holy desire is this: to God. It requires we confess the age-old sin, as Augustine describes it, “committed . . . when, in consequence of an immoderate urge towards those things which, are at the bottom end of the scale of good, we abandon the higher and supreme goods, that is you, Lord God, and your truth and your law. These inferior goods have their delights, but not comparable to my God who has made them all. It is in him that the just person takes delight; he is the joy of those who are true of heart.”

Desire God first. Repent of loving anything more than him.

Then, having been reconciled to your Creator, reconcile yourself to his Creation.

And this is where I think I say something surprising: enjoy the world.

Augustine knew it made no sense to say, “Love the Creator, and hate His creation.” Or, “Want God, and leave off wanting what he has made.” This would be to betray the very DNA of Genesis, where God makes a good world, a world to delight the senses, a world made for marvel and pleasure.

I understand this better when reading John H. Sailhamer’s, The Pentateuch as Narrative. (If this were the only commentary I owned, I could die a happy woman.)

Sailhamer notes that while God repeats his approbation of his creation (“It is good”) all throughout Genesis 1, he does not call “good” the separation of the waters and the sky (v. 8). Why? Why is this not good in God’s estimation? Or at least, why has he deliberately decided against calling it “good?”

Sailhamer: “The ‘good’ which the author has in view has a very specific range of meaning in chapter 1 – the ‘good’ is that which is beneficial for humankind. . . The heavens were made and the waters divided, but the land, where human beings were to dwell, still remained hidden under the ‘deep.’ The land was still ‘formless’; it was not yet a place where a human being could dwell.”

The point of Genesis 1 is this: God was making a home for his people. The land, only in the measure that it became habitable, could be called good.

Indeed, we were made to want for the world.

Which of course now puts us in the terrible bind in which we find ourselves: the broken world post-Genesis 3 never satisfies us as we want and need it to. It is deformed, corrupted by the rebellion of humanity who would supplant the Supreme Good for lesser goods.

Enjoy the world. Yes, this can an imperative of holy desire. But enjoy them in God, anticipating the better world to come.

Augustine again: “Let these transient things be the ground on which my soul praises you, ‘God creator of all.’ But let it not become stuck in them and glued to them with love through the physical senses.” Love the world as you see all its goodness authored by He who is Good. Appreciate creation’s beauty as you behold the One who is beautiful. Pleasure in His pleasures – and learn to praise.

Holy desire depends on acts of reconciliation.

Through Christ, we are reconciled to God - we who have abandoned the Supreme Good for lesser things. Forgiven of our idolatry, our disordered loves are reformed.

Then, reconciled to our Highest Love, we love the world and experience it as the foreshadowing of that which is to come.

God is in our desire, behind our desire, before our desire, beyond our desire. God is using this potent, sometimes gnawing gift of desire – which springs from God’s own heart – to lead us, like with bread crumbs, to a door which we might not have otherwise chosen or even recognized in this life. Inside that door is home.

– Br. Curtis Almquist, Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Home for Christmas

jenmichel@me.com

Photo Credit

Tomorrow morning, we'll wake up in hotel room.

Can you unpack the magic of Christmas from a suitcase? We've no tree, no decorations. Tomorrow morning, I'll be lucky to find hot coffee in the deserted lobby.

We could've spent Christmas at home. But where exactly is that, home?

Toronto, in the house we've rented only only six short months?

Elmhurst, in the house we still own but whose furniture we no longer recognize?

At church tonight, two readers retell the story of Mary and Joseph. They'd traveled in the ninth month of Mary's pregnancy for a census. Their journey, lasting almost a week, threaded them through wilderness, leading them further away from the familiar. From home.

Without a home, who can't help but feel frightened?

As a mother, I feel the urgency of this making of home. Home, the familiar somewhere whose door you throw open and breathe in belonging.

Tomorrow morning, we'll wake up in hotel room.

And maybe it's the best place to be. Maybe it's Christmas morning that we're meant to understand how this spinning globe will never be home. No house, no city, no familiar four walls have the power to breathe in belonging.

Only Jesus does that.

I make my home in Him and find I'm never a stranger.