Thursday, January 19, 2023

All of us are 'homesick for Eden'

 I named this blog, “Homesick for Eden,’’ because of a song recorded by Paul Smith and written by Claire Cloninger. The song says, “All of us are homesick for Eden. We yearn to return to a place we’ve never known.” I think that captures, beautifully, that longing that I know I have always had and that I believe most, if not all, humans have for “a place that we know is home,” (also from the song); a part of a deep belief that we were created to live in a better world than the one in which we find ourselves.

As I read what we commonly refer to as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,’’ it occurs to me that a great part of the history of the people in the Bible is one of being exiled, and longing to return to that idealized place where we feel we belong.

Go back to the Babylonian exile. Prophets wrote books about the children of Israel hoping to go back to Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple and re-establish life in the Promised Land. It was the dream of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and so many others who were forcibly removed from their land.

King David, before he was king, was driven into exile, even hiring himself and his army out to rival kings. He could have remained in these foreign lands and lived “like a king” in some places where he aligned himself. But he believed in the promise that one day he would indeed be king of his homeland, Israel, and always looked for the opportunity to return home.

Think of the exodus from Egypt. Joseph’s family went into exile in search of a better life during a time of extreme famine, but from the beginning there was the hope that one day they’d return. Jacob’s last wish was that his bones would not be buried in Egypt but kept until they could be returned to his homeland. And the Israelites spent 40 years wandering, when they could have undoubtedly settled down in any number of places along the way, fueled by this dream of a land they had never known but only heard about.

For that matter, Jacob tricked his father, cheated his brother, and went into exile until such a time as he was felt he had to return home, willing to face the wrath of his brother (fortunately for him, his older brother was much more forgiving than the one in our parable).

Shoot, go back to Adam and Eve. They were driven from the actual Garden of Eden, and in a sense, as you look at the history of the world, people have been trying to recreate Eden, dreaming of creating an ideal society of equality and prosperity, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average (as author and humorist Garrison Keillor describes the town of Lake Wobegon).

So while it is important that we read the Parable with the understanding of who Jesus’ intended audience was (the faithful Jews, Rabbis and Pharisees), it is also true that we can take secondary meanings from parts of the parable.

The younger brother believes he can go off and live life on his own terms (like Adam and Eve making the decision to eat of the forbidden fruit). The reality is that it doesn’t take long for his world to fall apart (as it did for Adam and Eve), and the longing set in to return to “home.”

It is a consistent theme of the Bible - humanity in exile, yearning to return to a place we feel like we belong, where things will be better than they were here, wherever ‘here’ is.

But all these returns described in the Bible failed to deliver the full promise of what the people longed for.

In the end, just like at the end of the Prodigal parable, there is a feast. The book of Revelation tells us there is a celebration, a great feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Death and decay are gone, and the New Jerusalem comes down and becomes the whole earth. “He will wipe away every tear. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

Whenever I wonder if I will ever find my true ‘home,’ I’m reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis, who said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Or in the words of Homesick for Eden:

“In the back of our minds is a time before time, and a sad irreversible fact. We can't seem to think why left there, and we can't seem to find our way back. 

“Deep is the need to go back to the Garden, a yearning so strong, to a place we belong, a place that we know is home.”


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