A small word with big connotations. It is a word I have been thinking about a great deal lately, and a concept which has led me to think a little deeper about the spiritual and practical meaning which our homes hold. When I started to write this blog post in the summer, I was coming to the last stage of a total home renovation which meant myself, my husband, my son, our two cats and all our belongings had been shipped out to a storage unit, and my mother and father in law’s house. Just to clarify – the belongings were in storage, the people, and cats were at the in-law’s house. When my husband and I embarked on the home renovation it was meant to be a relatively simple, small extension along with the removal of a few walls. Oh, how naïve we were! A year later and we are finally home. Nine months of stripping back and rebuilding pretty much every element of the building. This involved doing the majority of the work ourselves – at evenings and weekends – going backwards and forwards on a 50 mile round trip 3 or 4 times a week. There were fun times and difficult times but we both kept the goal of finishing our family home at the forefront of our minds. It reminded me how important our homes are and that their ‘function’ goes beyond being somewhere to protect us from the elements. For me, being away from our home meant a change in the dynamic of our little family unit and a year of not been able to enjoy our home or the place we chose to live. We are of course so grateful to my in-laws, who basically gave up a part of their home for us, and our lives, for the best part of a year. As a word it may be small, but as a concept, ‘home’ is no small thing. As human beings, where we live can be as much a part of us as our jobs, our hobbies and even our faith. And it seems that it was ever thus.
I am an obsessive reader, and one of the many books I am currently reading is a wonderful book by Francis Pryor called ‘Home: A Time Traveller’s Tales from British Prehistory’ which is both fascinating and a total joy to read. Pryor looks back to prehistory to understand what constituted a home in prehistory, if it was even a concept, and whether this has any relevance to our lives today. Through his own research and the work of academic and archaeologist Nicky Milner from York University Pryor paints a picture of what family life might have been like thousands of years ago, at the beginning of our early discoveries of the human race. From her research and findings, Milner is convinced that rather than just built for necessity, Neolithic houses were built to be family homes and that they hold their own significance because of this. It appears that a home, in whatever form, has been vital in the lives of human beings for as long as we can see. Pryor outlines that being settled and building a space to enjoy and to feel joy in has been important for humanity for thousands of years. I think that because of the lockdowns and restrictions we have experienced in recent years, this has become more apparent than perhaps we might have realised. For me, due to a period of illness, the fact that I work from home, and because of the pandemic, I have been spending a great deal of time in my ‘new’ home since we moved back. This time has been a time of forced reflection for me on how deeply the meaning of home can go. And honestly, the more and more I have reflected on what ‘home’ is, the more I am convinced that it is where we feel most at peace. It is the people, the experiences, the highs, and lows and largely is about how we live. This goes beyond bricks and mortar.
One advantage of it taking so long for me to finish this blog is that now I come to finally finish writing it, Christmas is (not so slowly) creeping up on us – frighteningly along with more threats and fears of lockdowns and the prospect of potentially not being able to travel to our loved ones for the festive period. Over two thousand years ago there was a young couple heading back to the town of the young man’s birth due to the population at the time being required to register for a census. This town was Bethlehem and the young man was called Joseph. He travelled with his betrothed; a young pregnant girl called Mary. These two then became three in a small cow shed surrounded by piles of straw, some rather confused and put out livestock and their equally bewildered keepers. Each December we are reminded of this young family in the stark, ‘unhomely’ environment, and the story of what happened that night has become one of the most magical and significant moments in the Christian tradition. Humans have pondered on, and written about this moment for thousands of years, and each Christmas Christians mark the end of Advent by welcoming Jesus into their home. Traditionally, this is marked by bringing the baby Jesus to the crib each December 25th. This week, some Catholic women who are part of a Facebook group which I am in, kindly shared their thoughts of ‘home’ at this significant time of year. For them ‘presence’, sanctuary, prayer, safety, comfort, and rest are what home means to them over Christmas time. ‘Being’ and ‘living’ in God’s love with their family is central to what home is.
However, we see on a daily basis, people across the world being displaced because of war, natural disasters or disease and the pictures on our screens are harrowing to see. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan this summer, the world witnessed thousands of people fleeing their homes and the lives they had built up, in order to keep their families safe. Global natural disasters leave thousands of families homeless on what seems like a weekly basis. These events fill our screen with images of individuals fleeing or escaping with just the belongings they can carry. And fortunately, for most of us, these are experiences we will never have to live through. Along with major events rendering people homeless, there is the everyday, domestic crisis of homelessness which we have become sadly all to used to seeing. In the UK over the past three years homelessness has grown and the charity Crisis estimate that over 200,000 families and individuals in England will experience homelessness this Christmas.  These numbers are shocking for a country as wealthy as ours, but I am sure are mirrored in ‘first world’ countries across the world. To not have a settled home has a huge impact on individuals and families and the consequences of homelessness are often part of a devastating vicious circle of unemployment and financial insecurity. And to not have a home strips people of security, choice, and often basic human dignity.
There are countless ways in which we can be torn away from what is secure, familiar, comforting and often, the key to our day-to-day survival. And contemplating these realities makes my little home even more precious and blessed to me. Jesus asks us to open our hearts and homes especially at this time of year. I know we may not all be in a position to physically and realistically home the homeless or feed the hungry but the last couple of years have certainly reminded me how incredibly blessed I am to be able to put a roof over the heads of my family, and within my new year’s resolution there will be the promise to do to be more welcoming and ‘doors open’ towards my fellow human beings. After all, we all live on and share one big, beautiful home which we are learning is far more fragile than we might have thought. But that is for another blogpost…
 Pryor, F. Home: A Time Traveller’s Tales from British Prehistory, UK, Penguin Books Ltd, 2015.
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