In 1993 I had the dark providence of spending six consecutive weeks in the hospital, a first for me, and the first time I had been away from home for that length of time. I felt that I was exiled there, imprisoned by my sickness, and at points I was not certain when or if I would return. It was the most difficult trial I have ever faced --- particularly given that at points I felt abandoned by God. What I mean is that I could hang onto the idea of God in my head but felt no supernatural presence with me. And yet looking back I can see that He was with me in the form of the Body of Christ, in the flesh and blood people who came daily to encourage me. And yet they always left, and I couldn't. Every day I could stand at the end of a hall and watch people coming and going, a parade of life, and envy them their freedom, the homes that they could return to at the end of a day, the normality of their life.
The day did come, however, when I returned home. I remember standing in my bedroom looking at everything --- the the doorframes, the chair by the window, the nightstand of unread books, and the hall to my children's rooms. I went around touching things, running by hand over the banisters, the hearth, the bedspread, and the good solid doors. I saw the pencil marks on the wall where we charted our children's growth. I took deep breaths of the smell of my house, unique and missed. I was like a man who dreamed. I could not believe I was home.
Years ago now I saw a movie called The Trip to Bountiful. Geraldine Page plays an old widow woman living with her son and daughter-in-law in a small town in Texas. Her abiding desire is to go home, home to her birthplace and to her house, to see again the place where she grew up and lived, to remember. But as kindly as her son and his wife are, they can't seem to understand why she'd want to go there, and they won't take her. So she boards a Greyhound bus and takes herself. When she finally makes it to Bountiful, her home, she finds her the old house vacant and unoccupied, open to the elements, and yet she had to go there to remember and appreciate not just what she used to have but the home she now had with her son and wife. She realized God's bounty by looking back, in seeing His providence in her life.
I called my friend Kirk while I was in the hospital, one Sunday afternoon. Kirk did a radio show on the local college station. I asked him to play a song that would encourage me. He played Bruce Cockburn's "Wandering Where the Lions Are," a great song inspired by Cockburn's reading of the strange novels of Inkling Charles Williams. The words spoke to me:
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...
I find that the only way to think about eternity or heaven is to think about home. And that's what I was doing. When I got home and saw it for real. It could have been heaven for all I was concerned. I saw it all with new eyes, with wonder and deep appreciation. No lions, at least none at those doors.
I think I know how the Israelite exiles felt on returning to Zion: This is it. This is as good as it gets. This is Home. They were laughing all the way Home.
I don't know how people live uprooted and non-home lives, blowing here and there, moving every two years for career or just, as one woman once told me, for something "new." We need a home to come back to. It's through the memory and, hopefully, the tangibility of that home that we see through to eternity, to our real Home.
Want to see Heaven? Look carefully around your own home, or the one you remember, or the one you always hoped for. Then multiply by 100. That should do it. Dream on that. That just might be laughter in your throat.