Home, sweet home. Home away from home. Home is where the heart is. You can never go home. Or, in true Judy Garland fashion, clicking our heals together three times and repeating, “There’s no place like home.” All of these anecdotes have probably been real for us at different times in our lives. We have our homes of origin which hold so many memories as to be an irreplaceable domicile where we are firmly rooted and at the same time a place that we hesitate to return to. Some of us are blessed with more than one home, splitting our seasons in the sun between northern and southern climes, oceans or mountains or family connections. What does it feel like as you enter your alternate home upon arrival? What wells up in you as you take in that first breath and exhale? For some the idea of a home may be elusive as you journey through life with less rootedness. That doesn’t mean that the concept of home needs to be beyond your reach. It may just not be tied to a material location. It holds a deeper meaning.
This is our first Sunday in our church home since we shuttered our doors and braced against the unknowns of pandemic times, an invisible intruder. It is important for us to acknowledge this homecoming if for no other reason than the length of time we have been absent from the building, sixteen months, give or take a day, but also from the physical presence of one another. That’s a long time to be apart from the weekly ritual of gathering to celebrate one’s faith in the company of likeminded souls. All is as we left it, for the most part, save for the efforts of the good folks on our Building and Grounds Committee and the sprucing up that has occurred in our waiting; the brave decisions we have made to upgrade our technology and welcome life into our sanctuary in new ways.
So, I want to invite you to take a minute now to reflect on what you noticed when you entered the Meeting House this morning. Not just what you noticed about the room itself, but what you became aware of inside of yourself. Take a breath in and slowly release it. What comes to mind? This can be an emotional experience for some, and I want us to honor that. I invite you to share a word or phrase that captures the moment. Just raise your hand and I will call on you. Some of you are in your own home today and are seeing the sanctuary and our service here for the first time through this new lens. What are you noticing? I want to invite your participation as well.
Home means different things to different people. Safety comes to mind. A place of personal expression as in homemaking or the making of a house into a home. Simple shelter – not so easy for some to come by in these times of income inequality – nothing new really but brought to the fore in the past year. Egyptian writer and 1988 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Naguib Mahfouz, wrote that, “Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease.” Not the town or the first place you remember living. Instead, the place where you felt that deep sense of contentment; a knowing that you could settle in as you were; no need to keep grasping for yet another and another that would be more or better or enough. Here I can make a life, you thought.
If you came to Unitarian Universalism after a journey through other religious or spiritual territory, you may have encountered this feeling upon visiting your first UU congregation. I am home, you said to yourself. If you are a birthright UU the path has perhaps taken you on an adventure in finding the right fit in a Unitarian Universalist home, each so unique even as they are rooted in something similar, and you knew it when you arrived, your search was complete. Many of you have moved about the country in your lifetimes and hold close in your hearts a home connection to several UU congregations, this one being your summer home or your year-round place to gather around our Principles and do the work of the church. Whatever the case may be, you knew it when it happened; a quickening at your center told you so.
This year we have settled on a mission statement that puts forth the priorities of this community – nurturance, seeking, encouraging, inclusion, which is life changing for people on all sides of the conversation, fairness in opportunities, right relationship – the meaning beneath the meaning of justice, acknowledging head and heart both. This is what I hear when I read the words you have gathered. It is a grounding statement – a home base of sorts. Like our poster out front – “In this house, we believe . . ..” It says something about the kind of home we choose for ourselves here on the hill; the sense of home that we carry with us as we part company each week.
As we return to our church home in the coming months, each of us taking whatever time we need to do so comfortably, and by whatever method we choose – so nice to have options – I wonder what we will be creating here in this home of ours. It is the same, but not quite. We are the same, but not quite. Evolution is ongoing always, that being the nature of it, however I would be surprised if any of us could say that we are returning without a more significant change. Our awareness of the world that surrounds us has shifted and so, too, our response in ways that are commensurate. What might our focus be? What does our world – the big wide one and the smaller local one - call on us to provide, to be? Our values, too, may have changed or been honed by this time of isolation and uncertainty. Does something seem more important now than it did a year and a half ago?
When you came in you all should have found a shell or two on your seats – a prop so you would sit more distanced, yes, but a metaphor also for home. The seashells we have collected over our lives are not just beautifully sculpted pieces of calcium carbonate. They are the homes that sea creatures have built for themselves – places of security, safety, protection from predators; each one unique to the environment in which it develops and in combination with the chemical makeup of the inhabitant. Not much different from us, really! A home in the dessert is structured differently than one in the mountains and in relation to the biological needs of the people inside. These are yours to keep as a reminder of today’s message and invitations.
As we move through the summer and into the coming church year, I hope we will use this metaphor to help us think about what kind of home our beloved Meeting House provides in Chatham. How is it responding to the needs of its people; to the changing climate that is its environment here on Cape Cod; to the faith that grounds it and calls it to side with love in our world? Like the snails and clams, we are building our shell from the inside out, layer upon layer as we meet the changing days, using what we need from the resources around us, mixing it with the source at our center, creating a sustainable home for ourselves. Always we are shaped by the mingling of interior and exterior influence – as persons and as a people – the enticement of our inner voice collaborating with the impacts we encounter, expanding our understanding and our capacity to respond to life.
Browning suggests that love and energy do not stop or stand still. This community is a testimony to that truth! This place is alive with the love and energy that we bring to it. We can feel it hum with our presence. Just stop by the Thrift Shop one day and you will feel what I mean! Our heart’s murmurings cry out and are heard among these people we have come to love. Together we uphold one another – each heart a home for the other. In this most personal and yet most telling of places we make our home; vulnerable and open to the changes whirling about us; a home that stands visibly here in town, and stands for our free faith, available to all who would come through our doors. It is for us to make of this home what we will. We have the key. May we be up to the task ahead of us. May we say as we enter the doors each week that we are, indeed, home.
Blessed be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
July 11, 2021