As our first year in Bath begins its final couple of months I am more aware than ever that I am far from where I’m from.
For those who live in a country other than the one they grew up in there might be some resonance with a phrase I will use in the next sentence. Despite a deep sense of welcome and community, living away from home, whether for less than a year in Illinois, 10 years in York or 2 years in Luton, there is a relentless homesickness that has buzzed away constantly like background radiation. It is sometimes loud; sometimes drowned out by the novel and mundane moments of life but it is always there like a dull ache of which you can’t quite locate the source.
Maybe it is in the ‘lost in translation’ moments when your words are met with a blank gaze. Maybe it’s in the, ‘just one single chip’ reply at the counter when you order your burger and chip in a momentary lapse that ‘on the mainland’ they add an s.
It’s drawn out when you hear a brood of tourists gazing at the beautiful architecture and exclaiming, ‘Dear blessus. Sure, would ye look how gorgeous thon is.’ The ache increases when you miss another Sunday roast at home or when you’re favourite crisps just aren’t available in Waitrose.
Homesickness is relentless and after almost half my life away from home I’m coming to accept that it is probably unending. I don’t want to leave it but sometimes I just wish Bath was a bit more Northern Irish, as I did with Luton, with York and with Illinois. Every now and then I just want a bit more ’bout ye’ and a bit less ‘Hello.’
There is another ache. I’ve become more aware of it recently in the face of the constant onslaught of darkness from the 24 hour news cycle. Every boat that capsized, plane that falls from the sky, mass killing, political chaos, fracking site opened and benefit system life lost amplifies that other ache within me. The ache that says this is not how it should be and it is not how it was ever meant to be.
My encounters with Jesus and the message of his gospel have been like a glimpse into another world; another home. This other home where acceptance, welcome and grace reign. Where no caste system of indigenous and immigrant exists, only human. One where the poor are lifted up and the broken are pieced back together.
My experience of Jesus is that even I can be mended and put to good use. My life has been a glimpse to that other Kingdom that is both hidden and vividly visible all around us. A Kingdom of compassion and active restoration and I’m homesick for that place too.
Sometimes I wish this place was a bit more like that place. I wish that this place was a bit more ‘we’ and a bit less ‘us and them;’ a bit more reconciling and a bit less splintered.
Sat on a bench looking at the river Avon I realised something. In the same way every room I enter becomes a little more Northern Irish for a while, so every room I enter becomes a little more like my other home if I want it to. We carry in us the ability to bring about the things we long for.
We can be the reconciliation. We can be the compassion. We can be the grace. We can be the welcome. We can be the restoration. We can be that place in this place.
Cultures veer towards the darkness when the light hides away. Let’s all burn brightly the light of our home.