I am always fascinated by the power of metaphor to carry meaning and emotion as we attempt to explain and understand ourselves and each other. A recent confluence of stories and events has gotten me thinking about the connection between mother and home, and the homeland that Palestinians long to obtain.
A week ago we celebrated Mother's Day. It is one of the major churchgoing holidays for many Americans (CEMO's = those who go to church on Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day only). Some preachers are torn about what to preach about on that day - whether to follow the lectionary or follow the culture. It is possible to fashion a decent sermon on Mother's Day because the experience of an intimate bond with someone who cares deeply for your welfare, an experience crucial to every child's growth and development that a mother often provides, is an experience that provides a foundation for the intimate bond we have with God. (I realize that mothers are not the exclusive providers of that bond and that not every mother is able to provide it, but language and metaphor tend to deal in generalizations.)
That intimate bond is established through a relationship (often with a mother) and in a place (usually a home). Thus place and person are conflated, and "home" now carries the meaning of a place of caring, sustenance and love because home is the place where we received that foundational experience of an intimate bond with someone who cares deeply for us. Thus, mother and home are connected, at least in an ideal sense.
So when Jesus said: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them," (John 14:23) the experience of home as that place of an intimate bond with someone who cares deeply for us informs us about how God loves us, abides with us and cares for us.
This past week, when the Pope was visiting the Holy Land, I was sent a link to a blog about the need for a two state solution in Palenstine written by a wise friend, Mel Konner (click here for the first in series of four articles on the topic.) As I read the stories there from both Palestinians and Jews - stories of passion and longing for a homeland - I began to think about the meaning and power of the word "land" when you add either "mother" or "home" to it. (We use the words "motherland" or "homeland" almost interchangeably when speaking of the place of our origins. The German language prefers "Fatherland" - perhaps others do as well). When so combined, it is now not just a person with whom we have an intimate bond (mother), it is now not just a location where we receive care and sustenance (home), but the land itself is personified and defined, like mother and home, as something with which we have an intimate bond that cares deeply for us. Adding "mother" or "home" to land creates a metaphor that means not only that we have a place to love and care for, but that we have a place that loves, sustains and cares for us. This is what the Palestinians long for and this is what the Israelis fiercely defend. A land that loves them.
Christianity grew up in the bosom of a religion that had lost its home, that place where God had established an intimate bond with the people and that place where they experienced the care and love of God through temple, land and king. Growing up severed from the home of the mother religion from which it grew , and determined to establish a new identity apart from the religion that bore it, Christianity has no "homeland" like Judaism (or Islam), no one place on earth where God established a bond with us and cares for us. Christianity has no homeland this side of heaven. We have to be content to have our home with God wherever we are.