I came to know Wendell Berry at the wrong time in my life. My husband and I, with three children in tow, had just barely gotten our feet on the ground after moving away from a place and a people that we had dearly loved for six years. We were walking into a two-year internship—where we would hover over another city before making the third move of our young marriage—when I picked up Jayber Crow for the first time.
It seemed like a cruel joke, a mocking of my current situation, to be falling in love with the words of Berry who so values the consistency of staying in one place. Jayber’s ghost hovered over me saying, “Being fixed in a place is a good thing.” And I nodded my head and said—“Yes, I know. I know it is, and I’m already arguing that point and you really don’t have to keep telling me that.” And we both stood in the silence, staring, waiting for resolve that didn’t come. I longed to be a fixture on a street, in a town, in one state. I wanted to know the dirt underneath me and to be in a place long enough to be known.
Because when memory calls me back to my childhood, I know that land. I can feel that grass under my feet. I know its broad green blades: fat-bottomed and rising to a rounded point. In my mind, I can split the blades into two pieces and I can remember the way the hanging fibers felt on my lips. I know the yellow dandelion blooms—and not only as a whole, but also, more clearly even, in its parts. I know the feel of the dandelion’s soft petals on the tip of my nose and the mustard-yellow streaks it would leave when I rubbed it across my palm. I can see its hosts of aphids working their way up the stems in crowded lines. I know the lemon clovers that grew by the ditch in the front yard and I can taste their sour electric-yellow petals in my mouth. And I know all of this because we stayed in one house for nearly my entire childhood, and my little dime-sized eyes spent time up-close with these neighborly wonders.
But now, as an adult, I worry for my children who have had the grass of three different states under their feet. Have they been in a place long enough to become friends with the weeds? And this isn’t a rhetorical question— it’s one that’s been asked in hot tears into pillows under the dark cover of night. When will our hearts stop treading water? When will we find rest, Lord? What and where is home?
And, I hate saying it—because it’s not his fault and because I still love his words dearly—but Berry has added insult to injury. And all of the other well-meaning voices in our Christian culture that shout for place-making and homesteads, they poke and pull at freshly-mended spots in my heart, places held together by fragile threads.
And so: a word to my fellow pilgrims. To those of you who, like Abraham, have been called to leave home and walk out into the night toward a place unnamed: This is really hard. You have pulled up roots, and they are still dropping home-soil as you gather them in your arms. Maybe those roots are raw and sore from being pulled and re-planted several times. You may, like I, have had the great privilege of burrowing yourself down into a place for a time, practicing eternity there, only to be called to leave. And you realized it was just a practice, after all. And you had to pack your bags, because this was not home yet.
Or maybe you can’t even remember the weeds of your own childhood. Maybe your whole life has been characterized by this feeling of placelessness, and others assume that you are unfazed by this because it’s all you’ve known. But you have a longing in you, and you do know.
The truth is, of course, that we are all pilgrims in this world, and so there is something good for our hearts in this journeying through different places and people. There’s an honesty at work when our realities are not allowing us to anchor our hearts down to temporal things. But let me hold your face in my hands and tell you this, you weary-hearted pilgrim— It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, either. You are supposed to be pining. Jayber Crow should make you rest your head on your folded arms and weep. We were made for porch-sitting with friends; we were made for a home.
But for some of us, our callings don’t allow for anchored roots on this side of heaven. And if this is you, you need a familiar place on which to cry. You actually need a table to lay your folded arms and head upon, that place where your hot breath will gather itself up and come back to you.
If you’ve ever known the goodness of walking into your grandmother’s kitchen—all warm from the heat of familiar things in the oven—there’s something else like that. The Lord’s Table is like that, and it is the table we pilgrims need.
When will our hearts stop treading water? When will we find rest, Lord? What and where is home?Elizabeth Harwell
The Lord’s Supper is a place for people like you and me who are very aware of our in-betweenness. Jesus said he was leaving us; he was going to prepare a place for us. But in the meantime, he was setting a familiar table that would spread the expanse of the entire world and throughout time until he comes again. The Table is a place for the pilgrims. It’s a cozy stop-off on a chilly and unforgiving road. Here we are called to remember the place to which we are traveling. It’s a whiff of the feast coming, in the same way that the smell of lima beans on the stove takes you back to being hip-to-hip with your grandmother in front of her stove. The Table takes us back to the time he secured the promise for us, and it begs us to look forward to the time in which the promise will be fulfilled: A place. A home.
The Table is a place for us to remember Christ, but as we share the one bread with brothers and sisters, it’s also a place at which we are re-membered back into the body—where we are reminded of our Family. We stare into the faces of our membership. Our place is coming, our people are here.
These past three years, I have felt the pain of roots being dragged above the ground. And Sabbath after Sabbath, I have fallen on the Table. It has been a physical handle for my fainting heart to grab hold of. The Table is the place where Jesus can tell me, “I know the journey is hard. But here is my body to nourish you for your pilgrimage. I am coming back for you. I’m taking you home.”
Jesus told us that he would not eat this meal again without us, which means that he is hungry for our homecoming feast. The chair is being pulled out for you and for me. The dandelions and the lemon clovers are dancing in the fields outside, waiting to be known. Weep, weary-hearted pilgrim…but not as one without hope. You have a home.