Sanctuaries in the Shadowlands

Prefiguring heaven in our homes

Whenever I think of home, I think of Narnia. I imagine running "as fast as an arrow flies" through the dappled downs, swimming up a thundering waterfall as if "climbing up light itself,"((Lewis, C.S., The Last Battle, P. 200.)) scaling the snowcapped mountains into the Western Wild. Narnia, of course, is an imaginary country, and I live in the suburbs, but in his allegory of what Christians recognize as "the new heavens and the new earth,"((Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13)) Lewis captures the elusive and transcendent feeling of coming home. I feel at home in Narnia because it confirms my inner conviction, universal to the human experience, that I was made for a better world.

Part of being human is desiring shelter from the relentless onslaught of sin and brokenness. Christian tradition acknowledges that longing and points to a remedy: heaven as home. The writer of Hebrews writes that pilgrims "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one."((Hebrews 11:16)) In Scripture and Christian literature, the language that refers to heaven and home is both interchangeable and futuristic. The desire for heaven is the desire for home, and vice versa. We were made for a flawless future home, but we live in a presently fallen world. How then do we live in the tension between the hope of heaven and the immediacy of our need for it?

Christian homes should be places that intentionally enact the Christian journey through the Shadowlands of this world toward our true country. Heaven is a certain but mysterious promise and Eden is lost, so we cannot manifest the thing itself, but we can foreshadow it. Just as early believers accepted the name Christians, meaning "little Christs," we can create "little homes." Little homes are where Christians worship, work, rest, learn and love with increasing holiness. When we embrace the responsibility to reclaim our homes for the Kingdom of God, they can be sanctuaries in the Shadowlands where glory encounters fallenness, hope invites longing, grace covers sin.

These "little homes" are holy places because they invite us to the hope of heaven and also because they are where we live the ordinary lives we struggle to sanctify. Thomas Howard writes, "The family household, then, is one obvious place where we may come upon the hallows in very ordinary terms."((Howard, Thomas. Hallowed Be This House. P. 20.)) The mundane things of life are often the gateway to the transcendent, so it is the ordinariness of a Christian home that channels its consecration. We understand the needs and rhythms of home, so it becomes a metaphor for the mysteries which we cannot yet understand. Just as our homes require constant maintenance, so, too, our souls. As we wipe dusty tables and mow overgrown lawns, we remember that work is both a curse and a promise. As we irritate and disappoint those in our homes, we confront our gaping need for reciprocal forgiveness and love. These ordinary experiences, given over to grace, make us holy. Thus, home, the most ordinary place, becomes a thread weaving us into heavenly glory.

Christian homes do not aim to be heaven on earth, because perfectionism is an attempt to deny or conquer our human plight. When we construct unattainable expectations in our homes, we are more like fallen angels than redeemed souls. God thrust Lucifer from heaven because he vowed to "make myself like the Most High."((Isaiah 14:14)) To hijack the pilgrimage of grace in order to project an image of control is to mirror his arrogance. Homes are often messy, loud, disorganized and volatile. We blame our spouses when we lose our keys. We cry in the shower. We forget one another's birthdays, spill coffee on the carpet, kick the dog. We are often tempted to perceive these mundane failures through lenses of shame or rage, but the gospel transforms them into opportunities to overcome darkness, not deny it. A redeemed response to ordinary frailty is a crucial part of the journey to our true Home. Instead of forbidding messes in our "little homes," we clean them. Instead of avoiding conflict, we resolve it. Though never heaven itself, homes are signposts that can direct us toward it.

In these ways, "little homes" are the nearest terrestrial experience of heaven that we will ever have. In the Odyssey, a story about coming home, Odysseus chose the turmoil of mortal life over reclining on the beach with a goddess, because his home in Ithaca was in harmony with his nature.((Homer, The Odyssey, Book 4.)) So it is with Christians. Of course heaven is a better place. But we are not yet ready to live there. Our earthly nature is mingled dust and Breath; our earthly homes reflect this mysterious dichotomy. One day we will be remade, and our environment will reflect our redemption. We will exclaim with Jewel the Unicorn in The Last Battle, "I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now."((Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle. P.196.)) Someday our faith will be sight, our longings satisfied, and we will arrive...Home.


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