We had class yesterday morning entirely by zoom, which is possible now that we’ve had a global pandemic and all needed to master this technology for remote conversation. I’m glad for that – for the technology, and for the being able to have class, and that people still want to have class when some of us are out of state, and for class. Glad because it is uncomfortable to be a long way from the familiar, from home.
There’s an irony in that statement. The “familiar” has its roots in familia, family, and we were out of state visiting family. Though “familiar” goes even more deeply back to famulus, servant, and we had some opportunities to be of service to people over the weekend, too. And while “home” wears its etymology on its sleeve, so to speak, being more or less the same word all the way back to its linguistic family of origin, we connect it, too, with families and their places. So feeling a long way from the familiar and from home when back home with family lights up the way time and usage shifts the meaning of things, and puts distance between the surface and the depth.
So it is comforting to be able to shorten the distance, even partially.
The Church is everywhere, technically. Strictly speaking, wherever we are we take it with us, the way turtles take their shells, or nomads their tents. The church invisible, the church of “all the faithful of every time and place,” stretches past all the usual boundaries. “The church is the people,” and we are people. And God, as we know, is “everywhere that we can be.” So theoretically, at least, Christians ought to feel at home anywhere. But there often seems to be some distance between that theory and our practice. My practice, anyway.
There are at least three churches within easy driving distance, even at night, of the home base in Ohio, and we passed two of them on the trip between one family member’s house and another’s on Christmas Eve, and I did think about going to a worship service, and I knew I would have been welcome at any one of them. The lights were on, and there were cars in the parking lots, and it was Christmas Eve, when hospitality is on people’s minds. But I had promises to keep, and all that, so as it turned out, grace at dinner was as liturgical as it got that night.
Our class was studying Nahum, which is not the most cheerful text. Unless, I imagine, we are much farther from home than anyone ought to be, ever. In which case, Nahum’s description of God becomes something to hang on to, I imagine, and comforting.
And real life people have been farther from kindness than anyone ought to be, ever, throughout human history, right down to the present. Sometimes, even in church. More irony.
It’s probably a mistake to feel too comfortable, too familiar, too at home, wherever we are. When we still have promises to keep. And distance to narrow.