I sit in a coffee shop that I frequented when I was in high school. I find myself here again because after years away, we are moving back to Austin. It feels odd to sit in this place as an adult. I feel very different from who I was when I left here. I’ve lived in six different states since then. The way I think about God and humanity has shifted in substantial and transformative ways that moved me, incrementally, from a Baptist megachurch kid to an Anglican clergyperson. Since sipping decaf black here as a senior, I’ve grieved the loss of some friends and some innocence, became a pacifist, got married, had two children, and finished seminary. Now I’m returning home and everything feels different.
Have you ever woken disoriented in the middle of the night and, stumbling to the bathroom or the kitchen, reached for a familiar door and, slightly off, you instead grasped empty air? For one little moment, you feel like a stranger in your home. You are in your place and yet aren’t sure just where you are. This is how everything is for me now. Home but not quite home.
When I’ve moved before I’ve been sad to leave friends, but there was an adventure in it that thrilled me. New neighborhoods to explore, new people to meet, new stories to learn. Moving feels different now. As I age, I attach to places more deeply and for me, moving is harder with young children. But also, this move doesn’t have an end date. We aren’t moving here for grad school or a year-long internship. We are moving without an exit strategy. That kind of permanence scares me.
When I was younger, I was afraid of settling in in a place for too long. As the old hymn says, “Let goods and kindred go . . . .” I wanted to be willing to leave the familiar, to take risks, and to go where Jesus called. But lately I’ve been thinking about the demoniac who Jesus set free. Mark ends the story of Jesus healing this broken man in Mark 5, “The man that was freed from the demons begged to go with Jesus. But Jesus did not allow the man to go. Jesus said, 'Go home to your family and friends. Tell them about all the things the Lord did for you. Tell them that the Lord was good to you.'" I haven’t been through a dramatic exorcism, but this man and I both have stories to tell of how God has been good to us. And like me, he must have been surprised when this Jesus who had turned so many lives upside down by telling others to leave and follow, turned to him and said “go home.” Go back to those places you haunted and that still haunt you, but go back changed.
The scholar and writer Wendell Berry says that things we love usually have proper names. We can’t just love “the environment.” We instead learn to love southern Kentucky or Pilot Mountain or Barton Springs or Shelby Park. We love what we know.
I was never really a baby person. I liked children in an abstract way but I wasn’t one to ogle and coo over stranger’s children like some people do. Then, I had my girls. Now when I see new babies, my heart melts and I want to hold them, bless them, kiss them, and make them smile. I’ve come to love children universally through loving my particular children who I know and named.
What’s most inviting about moving home isn’t that it is somehow better than any other place I’ve lived, but it’s the particularity of this place for me. I know this particular land, how this particular place smells at springtime, how this particular road floods in Texas thunderstorms, how these particular people think about the world. I know the stories of how my grandmother picked pecans from these particular trees and how I tore up my back when I was six by falling from a rope swing over this particular river. Yet, in that familiarity, there is room for mystery like looking into the eyes of my two-year-old who I’ve been with in nearly every moment of her life, and yet, find new parts of her left to be explored, discovered, and loved. There is always excess in the particular, more than we can get ahold of.
And so we are moving back, God willing, to this particular place because for me, in this season, the way to love the world and to love my neighbor is to root in a particular part of it and to get to know a particular neighbor. And the Lord who freed me and the demoniac alike, entered into a particular place in a particular time and through that particularity transformed the whole of creation.