Nostalgia and Home

It’s the green house that I think about the most. It was off the back of my grandparents’ house in Towson. It was full of flowers and plants and my grandmother would go around watering and studying things out there.

Nostalgia grabs us in strange ways. It can be a smell, a song, or a feeling. When I walk into the sun room in my house and see plants inside for the winter, my mind goes immediately to my grandmother’s green house. It makes me smile. To get to the green house, you would have to walk by my grandfather sitting at the dining room table, drinking coffee, and reading The Baltimore Sun sports section.

Lately I’ve been thinking that nostalgia isn’t longing for the past, it’s touching something missing. In his book, “Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth,” Hugh Halter goes with nostalgia meaning “to return or go back home:”

We all have nostalgia and memories of going back home. Some of us remember our fathers through old cars; some of us keep Christmas ornaments our mothers passed down. Maybe it’s old guns; maybe just a photo. But whatever the point of reference, we all know emotions of looking back to times that brought us great joy. Nostalgia is the answer to the why.

A question I love to ask people is, “Where/what do you picture when you hear or say the word ‘home?'” I think it’s something that gets to the core of us. For one person it could be a childhood home, or the house where they raised their kids, or where they’ve spent the most years. I don’t picture a house. For me, when I think of home, I think of the Eastern Shore, Oxford, the Tred Avon River, anywhere outside in nature. Christ Church Easton and the people there feel like home. Log cabins in the woods feel like home, though I’ve never lived in one.

Christmas is a heavy nostalgic time. In part because many of us have deep memories tied to Christmas growing up. As a holiday, it can stoke both joy and emptiness, missing time past. But there may be more to it than that. Personally, it can sometimes take hearing Linus explain to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about before I get it right in my head. Funny how maybe it takes Charles Schulz to get kids to connect to Luke’s Gospel.

Let’s appreciate the forum here for a second: this is a blog, where I work out half-baked thoughts that should probably stay in the oven a while longer, or at least until after another cup of coffee. I don’t generally edit and things tumble out free form. That’s my disclaimer.

My memories don’t go back to the beginning of creation. There is a time before I was born. I think nostalgia reaches back further than our lifetimes. Maybe it’s a longing for a return to something in us that came before us. A Garden of Eden time that we can feel in our bones and hearts. We know there is something there, something to this longing, but we can’t put our minds around it quite right.

Halter points out that with the Incarnation, God wasn’t/isn’t trying to give us a ticket to get back to that perfect time–He’s bringing it to us. Christ brings the kingdom here and now. But it’s a process we have to open ourselves to. Christ gives us clue after clue; He shows us how to live, how to love, how to be in the world to help bring the kingdom/home both to ourselves and others. Halter goes into ways we can do a better job with this in our lives.

David Bailey’s book “Journeywork” found me via Outside Magazine. And it’s been a slow, wondrous walk since. Bailey describes home and coming home in a different way:

There’s a part of us already home
from the journey, resting by
the eternal fireside, and with us now
through the dark age and renaissance, through
every resurrection and
the great breaking-opens that feel like
endings. Storm lantern holding course
through every misadventure. Evergreen growing
through all seasons. It shines a halo of worth around
even our most irredeemable trials.

Feel that place now.

Returning home. But not as a journey to somewhere out there, but bringing home to us. Followers of Christ call it the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s a gift we can’t buy, it’s given to us by grace. It’s been brought forward to us, but we have to open the door. And we help bring it about through love.

Maybe that’s the connection: nostalgia is a longing for home, to be reconnected to it and to each other by love.

Author: Michael Valliant

I am a father, a writer, a runner, a hiker, reader, follower of Christ, a longboard skateboarder, stand-up paddleboarder, kayaker, novice birder, sunrise chaser, daily coffee drinker, occasional beer sipper. I live in Oxford on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where I am the Assistant for Adult Christian Education and Small Groups at Christ Church Easton by day. I am on a walk of faith, a spiritual adventure, following where God leads, sharing my story as it unfolds.

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