What is Home? To me it will always be the little map dot in Southern Kansas where I was raised. To others, St. Leo, KS is nowhere, but to me it is home. St. Leo is an intersection of a blacktop and a sand road thirty miles from civilization. A Catholic church with a 110-foot steeple is the most prominent, landscape-dominating feature, and the dozen or so houses surrounding it comprise what I call a town.
“Sense of place” is something that to many is completely lacking in our world. So many grow up without being rooted to any specific locale, thus a formation by the specific aspects and peculiarities of a given location are lost. I believe that good literature can serve as an alternative to the deeper sense of place we all long for.
Who among us has not read the descriptions in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and not had an intense desire to go there spring up in their hearts? There is something pure and earthy and deeply spiritual in this longing. Perhaps it is because it taps into something deep within us. There is a recognition of a Kingdom within us and a Kingdom beyond us that we all hunger for.
Here is where good literature awakens our souls to an awareness of the Kingdom that is to come. It creates a desire for something that eye cannot yet see, and our minds cannot yet understand. If only we could see the houses of Hobbiton and experience some hospitality at Bag End. We long to experience the splendor of Cair Paravel and walk with a faun in the woods of Narnia. Each of these fictional places opens us to the reality of something beyond ourselves. They are a peek into a Kingdom where we truly belong, and we are strangers and sojourners until we find our rest there.
As a father of four children, I recognize that my own children cannot have the same experience I had of growing up half-wild on the plains of Southern Kansas. Mine was a unique childhood that cannot be duplicated with any type of precision. Life circumstances have my wife and I raising our children hundreds of miles from where I grew up. Instead of the wide-open skies and endless wheat fields of my childhood, they have life on the edge of the city with all its raucous noise pollution. Rather, I must create a context in which my children can find a place called home within our family. All of us must have some sense of place on this earth in order to look onward to our final true place of belonging, so, when the time comes, we might call those epic lines from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle: “Further Up and Further in!”
Once in college I was assigned a book called Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, by William Kilpatrick. The eleventh chapter of that book is entitled “Life is a Story.” The premise of the chapter was that in viewing our life as a story, we are capable of becoming the great protagonist. We enable our children to write a brilliant novel of their lives where they are the great hero. When we also help them to find a true sense of place, we give them a homeland to fight for. The great stories we read to them awaken a desire for a place worth defending.
Heroes never fight for something abstract; rather, they fight for absolutes, like God, and homeland, and castles, and maidens. Heroes do not shed their blood in defense of abstract ideas. They shed their blood for the true, good, and beautiful, however that is incarnated in their particular story.
Take the time to read great stories so that your children can learn to live great lives. Show them that dragons can be defeated, castles can be defended, and that love can endure. The places they will go in these stories will weave an intricate map to guide them in life. First, though, give them a place to call home. Fill it with familial and holiday traditions. Most importantly use their imagination to build a Kingdom within them where they get that sense of belonging.
The world around us is always changing, and great stories allow our imaginations to create a world within us that looks forward to a final manifestation at the end of time. This truest sense of place within us prepares us for a final sense of place in an eternal homeland.
Featured image by pvproductions