I was introduced to the music of Andrew Peterson by my brother a couple months ago and was moved by his thought-provoking lyrics. One song that I became particularly fond of upon our decision to move to India was "The Far Country." The song is centered around a quote Peterson once heard from Meister Eckhart: "God is at home. We are in the far country." In the song, Peterson parallels Abraham’s journey to the "far country" of Canaan to our journey here on earth. The point is that we really are living in a far country, longing and aching for what we were created for, namely heaven.
After moving virtually to the other side of the world—from America to India—I’ve been constantly thinking about place and home. I think about what constitutes "home” and how I define the word rather than the house I shared with my husband in the United States.
I spent 13 years in the same hometown, and no matter where my parents may move, that small town in Illinois will always feel like home to me. More interestingly, the core of me simultaneously resides in several places, and all of those places feel like home—my hometown in Illinois, my alma mater (Taylor University in Indiana), Cincinnati and our family vacation spot in Michigan. And now, even our house here in India is beginning to feel that way. It is starting to feel like home.
Those dwellings all feel like home, I believe, because everything feels familiar to me when I’m there. It is in those places that I am known and loved. People in most of these places know my name, what I was like as a little girl, who my parents are and what I studied in college. I didn’t realize until quite recently just what it means to feel known, how comforting it is and how fearful I become when I don’t get that feeling.
Regarding the Eckhart quote and the song that stemmed from it, Peterson reveals on his website that, "It expressed so simply the way I feel about life on this earth, and my heart resounded with the truth of it. I loved the way it turned my thinking on its end; we usually think of Heaven as the far country—a cloudy, ethereal place, an eternal church service—which sounds about as appealing as traffic school. C.S. Lewis said that all of our desires, for acceptance, intimacy, rest, work, satisfaction, beauty are, at their root, desires for heaven."
Reading this comforted me, because it triggered a special memory from my past. After a particularly tough day in college, my roommate and friend Nicole and I sat in our apartment living room struggling, trying to pinpoint and put a name on our feelings. Nothing particular had really happened to trigger our sad, lonely and confused states of being. After some discussion punctuated with moments of silent thought, Nicole said something both simple and brilliant, "I was just not created for this earth. I’m having one of those ‘I want to be with Jesus days.’" That was precisely it. Never before had anyone so clearly described just what I was feeling. I’ll always remember that conversation. At the risk of sounding dramatic and sappy, it was a pivotal moment in my spiritual formation.
As Christians, it is beneficial for us to be reminded of where those feelings and longings for a place to be known and loved really come from. These difficult emotions were placed there by God, prompting us to realize that He is home and, it is in fact we who are in a far country, not vice versa. By giving us these feelings, God essentially whispers, “I have created you for another world. There is a reason you feel the desires and discomfort that you do. You were created for perfection, to live alongside Me intimately.”
The author of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: "He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecc. 3:11, NLT). Those lonely, homesick feelings actually do make sense. Some days, I feel uncomfortable on this earth. I feel uneasy living in a country where people have so little while I possess abundance; my heart aches to see the widespread oppression and poverty. Sadness overwhelms my soul when someone I love experiences a deep loss or is walking through one of life’s dark valleys. So these feelings shouldn’t “feel” so foreign to me after all. And what’s even better, they provoke thoughts and reminders of the heaven that is to come and the glorious homecoming that awaits.