The movie Lion is a wonderful story, and the book (which I’ve just finished reading) is even more so. On the cover of the book the key idea is expressed succinctly: ‘As a five-year-old in India, I became completely lost. Twenty-five years later in Australia, I finally worked out how to find my way home.’
Not to spoil the story for those who have not seen the movie (and you must!) the central aspect is that a small boy becomes lost, having been taken by train across almost the entire breadth of India, but with no idea of where he was. He is eventually placed in an orphanage and later the authorities allow an adoption agency to place him with an Australian couple seeking to adopt a child. Saroo Brierley grows up in Hobart, Tasmania, and as a young adult finds that Google Earth can assist him to find the place where he played (and strayed) as a child. Amazingly, he is eventually able to find his birth mother and siblings, his home.
This month there has been much media attention to the problem of homelessness in Australia, and our church is addressing the ideas of ‘home’ and ‘home-making’ in a current series of services. Whereas a generation ago, women who did not go out to paid work were called ‘home-makers’, we have (thankfully) moved on from that way of thinking. But the idea of making home is still a very good one, and worth considering.
Saroo Brierley has some useful things to say here. At one point (page 202 in the book) he reflects on the word ‘home’ and asks, as he is with his birth family in India, ‘Was that where I was, finally?’ He is unsure, since he has a home somewhere else: ‘I didn’t just live in Australia; I thought of myself as an Australian. I had a family home with the Brierleys and had made a home in Hobart with my girlfriend Lisa. I knew I belonged, and was loved, in those places.’
The interesting idea here is that it is belonging, relationships and love that are appealed to here, as defining ‘home’. But then he turns to recognise that here, too, in India, he has a home: coming here ‘also felt like coming home’ … ‘This was where I spent my first years, where my blood was’. So there is something relating to origins and one’s deepest and earliest memories as well, that make up part of what we mean by ‘home’.
What interests me here is the willingness on Saroo’s part to embrace the idea of more than one place, and more than one ‘family’, as home.
This is an immensely powerful idea. All too easily we think of home as something exclusive and singular. Our home is ours, and so it is not someone else’s. And if we are not in our home, as we imagine it, we cannot be at home.
But what if ‘home’ is an open concept, which can be embraced and in that sense ‘made’ wherever we are and whomever we are with?
Is it possible to work towards being at home wherever we are and being at home with others, or inviting them to be at home with us, wherever we are?
My sense is that this is at the heart of the Christian vision of life, and indeed of God. The doctrinal idea of Christ is that he is the embodiment of God the creator who is at home in the world, with people, inviting them to be at home too—even though many do not see things that way. Jesus sets up a meal table—actually he didn’t have a table, it seems, as he was an itinerant, but he does seem to have done a bit of eating with groups, sometimes at other people’s tables, and in every instance it is simply an invitation to people to be at home, at home with each other and at home with God and at home with themselves.
Making home is a vision of life, health, social justice, welcome. Saroo Brierley reminds us several times of the amazing things, they seem to him astonishing coincidences, that gave him unexpected opportunities. He finds that the orphanage where he was taken for a time was named Nava Jeevan, which means new life. Although he does not share his Indian mother’s religious faith, he is yet moved to acknowledge a profound sense of mystery at the heart of his experience and life: ‘While I don’t have any urge to convert that into religious belief, I feel strongly that from my being a little lost boy with no family to becoming a man with two, everything was meant to happen just the way it happened. And I am profoundly humbled by that thought.’ (page 257)
Home is where we learn the humility of the mystery of life, and thus not to grab it all for ourselves, but to listen, to share, to be thankful, to love as we have been loved. Making home in this way is life: it takes a life-time, and it gives us life.
Thanks be to God, the mystery of all life, our home.