on being an exile

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I am currently reading the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef. Otherwise known as the Green Prince, this son of a Hamas founder (and now resident of California) recently revealed that he is a two-fold traitor to his family: he served as a double-agent for the Israeli secret service, and he converted to Christianity. The story was broken by the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, and within a week Yousef was publicly disowned by his family.

Within a week, this man became the ultimate exile: he cannot return to Palestine, and he does not have a family. These are the two associations that most people make with the word “home.” Most people have hometowns. We have home countries (also known a Mother Country, which is a striking intersection of place and familial relationship). I live in a house that may be a home, but I return “home for the holidays,” wherever that other home may be. At the very least, isn’t home an address? The homeless don’t have addresses; isn’t that why they are considered homeless?

A friend recently shared an Economist article with me that fits this subject. The article, titled “Being Foreign: The Others,” addresses the difference between foreigners and exiles. To be a foreigner is to choose a life in a foreign country; choice is intrinsic to this article’s definition. Being foreign is characterized by feelings of novelty, surprise, anxiety, frustration, irresponsibility. It is an act of disloyalty to one’s own country that a century ago was not always acceptable, but is becoming increasingly fashionable and even desirable. By contrast, to be an exile is to be banished, to have lost something forever, to be unable to return home in any sense of the word.

The article concludes with something akin to a warning for foreigners: it won’t be long before they begin to feel like exiles. “Going home” becomes “visiting home.” Home changes. And what was once a choice to be a foreigner has become an unasked-for loss of home.

On Saturday, I had coffee with a woman whose definition of home completely surprised me. This woman likened home with the sky. Home is the future, the next phase of life, an adventure to be had. Home is the horizon with all its possibilities and potential. I felt vapid and small-minded for having assumed home was limited to a piece of land or the face of a person. I had abridged home and thus stripped it of its potential creativity and beauty.

Perhaps that is why I was actually astonished by this passage from the Bible. I appreciate the New Living Translation of this verse:

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home! (A prayer of Moses, Psalm 90:1)

This makes more sense the older I get. As I slowly learn about God, I slowly realize that I have no idea how deep and vast God is. He is creativity and beauty. He creates horizons, he gives real hope, he offers second and third and fourth chances, he rewrites stories, he renews. He is a refuge and a Father. He embodies my trite connotations with home and my friend’s grander understanding of the word. God won’t be abridged, and he also won’t change. Sometimes I feel like I am an exile, without a home and without the option of returning there, if I knew where it was. But I’m realizing that I am only an exile in relation to this world, and not in relation to God. What a spectacular thing.

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