Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman is a popular children’s book. A mother bird flies from the nest to procure a first meal for her almost-newborn. Before mama bird returns, baby bird hatches from the shell and realizes he is alone. He jumps out of the nest and in desperation queries every creature (and non-creature) he meets with the words “Are you my Mother?” After many encounters with non-birds, baby bird finds his real mother.
“Are you my Mother?” is not my question, but I have a similar one. Everywhere I travel or live, I ask: “Are you my Home?” Since I left my childhood town of Baltimore at age eighteen, I have lived in eleven different cities for at least a year. Other than a dozen relatives, a few friends, the ocean, and blue crabs, I have little connection to my Maryland roots.
Growing up in Baltimore meant that I was neither a Southerner or a Northerner. I have lived half of my life above the Mason-Dixon Line, half below. Northerners think I’m a Southerner; Southerners think I’m a Northerner. When my Southern friends ask me, “Where is your home?”, their question grips me in the gut because I don’t have an answer. It means “Who are your people? Who lays claim to you? Where is your lodestone? Where is the ground of your heart?”
I hunger for a place to call my home, for the Delta dirt-under-my-finger-and-toe-nails kind of rootedness of my Tennessee and Mississippi friends or the grungy borough loyalty of longtime New Yorkers. Given the opportunity to move to a place I could really call home, where my heart would say, “Yes, this is it!” I am stymied. I don’t know where that is. Pieces of my heart are scattered across the country, even overseas–in the places I have lived and visited. My “home” has many rooms and they do not exist in one geographical house or place. Instead of seeing this as a gift, I find myself in a chronic state of longing. Wherever I am, I’m yearning for the rooms of the cosmic house where I am not. Nostalgia replaces paying attention to my present longitude and latitude, to God’s gift of here and now.
A popular Christian song by Building 429 called Where I Belong addresses the search for home.
All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong
The tune is compelling. I love belting it out at the top of my lungs. But when I sing the chorus, I’m not so sure I agree with its theology. I may not feel like I’m home yet and I know this world has its issues, BUT I think I’m exactly where I belong. If the “kingdom of God is within you,” as the Gospel of Luke says, then looking for the one perfect geographical home is a waste of time. Even imagining a heaven or perfect home after death feels ungrateful for the life and learning of today.
I’ll probably never stop asking the question, “Are you my Home?” I want a people and a soil to call my own. But home, I think, is about opening the doors of my heart to the indwelling of God and God’s kingdom here and now, in this very moment.