“A Land More Kind than Home” -A Conversation With Thomas Wolfe and CS Lewis
Recently I decided, almost at the last minute, to go to my 50th high school reunion. Crazily, I tried at that late date also to arrange a preaching gig at the church I grew up in, but it was just too late for that. I understood, and yet something about it also disappointed me. I had attended my high school for four years, but I had attended my church, usually three times a week, for the better part of thirteen years. Seeds planted at my church had grown up in me, and I had spent almost forty years being a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Then suddenly I thought of the title of the novel by Thomas Wolfe (who grew up in Asheville, NC, near to where I grew up): “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Many people have asked why Wolfe chose this title. To me the title means at least two things: First, you can’t go home again because the place you knew as home has changed. It is no longer there (as it was). Secondly you can’t go home again, because you also have changed. Even if you could go back to the same place, which you can’t, it would not feel at all the same because the “you” going back is now very different.
From the Christian perspective, our true Home is in the future, not the past. The Apostle Paul wrote; “Brothers and sisters….one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
In “You Can't Go Home Again,” Thomas Wolfe said something strikingly similar (minus the reference to Jesus): “Something has spoken to me in the night...and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: ‘[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.’ ”
For a Christian, Paul’s reference to Jesus, missing in Wolfe, matters. In CS Lewis’s story for children and adults, “The Last Battle” four children, accompanied by the lion Aslan (a symbol of Jesus Christ) discover an alternate world called Narnia, and in Narnia, they discover a new world inside a stable (which most interpreters think symbolizes the stable where Jesus was born.) And in that new world accessed through a stable, in a garden, they discover even more about this new world. A faun tells them, "But you are now looking at the England within England, the real England just as this is the real Narnia. And in that inner England no good thing is destroyed….And the land they were walking on grew narrower all the time, with a deep valley on each side: and across that valley the land which was the real England grew nearer and nearer.”
I think CS Lewis is saying that the places we knew as home (England, America, India, Nigeria), as good as they might have been for some, nevertheless were imperfect, temporary and transient. We cannot return. But, because God made them, we may find they contained within themselves seeds of the truly real, the eternal. From the vantage point of faith, these former “homes” can provide a glimpse of our true Home, which can never be destroyed or change, and which can be found only in and with God.
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
I was unable to go back and preach at the church I grew up in. It had changed, and so had I. In a way it was no longer there. But at that church I met Jesus, who never changes, and who is my true Home.
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appeared in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News.