I’m from Southern California. I came to Boston for college and then went to Princeton Seminary, so I am most at home near an ocean, lots of people and universities. Then I served as a pastoral intern in far western Nebraska, in a city of 25,000 which is the hub for a 100-mile radius. Talk about out-of-place: it was a cross-cultural experience! Far from home, far from everything familiar, I felt strange, disoriented, lost. I wondered what I had done by moving there and where God was in all this.
In our scripture lesson from Jeremiah, the people of Israel have been pulled from their homes. King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, taken most of the city captive and moved them far away to Babylon. They were now exiles living in a foreign land. Lost, displaced and feeling abandoned.
To this grieving group, the prophet Jeremiah sends a letter with a message from God: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”[i]
Build. Plant. Marry. Multiply. Invest here. This is your new home. Don’t delay by thinking there will be a radical rescue. This is the new normal. Settle in. Drop anchor. Build. Plant. Put your routines in place. “Make yourself at home.”[ii]
We long for quick fix, pain relieved, challenges resolved, a return to “normal,” anything but the present. Life is not often like that. The healing following loss—including Israel’s major trauma of capture, destruction and relocation—is a slow work.
It’s important to name the pain, what was lost and how that feels. Israel had a tradition, an expression for lament which the psalms demonstrate. Psalm 137, rather mournful and vindictive, was written during the exile in Babylon: We sat down and wept. We couldn’t sing because we so missed Jerusalem. And, quite naturally, we wish Babylon’s children would be dashed against the rocks. That’s an honest, healing prayer, naming raw wounds, nasty as they really are. God invites and patiently listens to us lament.
It is also important to name the new reality after loss. This is the new normal. Build. Plant. Multiply. Invest. Make this home. Put into place the ordinary routines and practices that allow you to live well, that foster well-being. Invest time and love into ordinary tasks. Take care of yourself and your community.
In Nebraska, I spent more time in the kitchen. I already knew cooking to be a restorative activity. Far more than feeding my body, it feeds my soul. So amid loss and disorientation, rather than simply eating, I spent a much time cooking familiar favorites and exploring new recipes. I slowed down to savor and in doing so found solace. Cooking helped me live into the loss and make myself at home in a distant land. [iii]
What are the ordinary routines and practices through which you make yourself at home? What nurtures you? What are your rhythms and routines for health? It may not be cooking. It might have to do with children, cleaning, laundry, gardening, maintenance, exercise, Sabbath, rest, creativity, music. What particularly nurtures you? Slow down and invest time in that. Pay attention. Savor. Pray as you clean and fold. Homemaking can be a sacred healing way to respond to and prepare for life’s challenges.
God tells the lost and displaced exiles in Babylon to make themselves at home. God also says: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”[iv] Seek the welfare—the well-being—of the city where I have sent you. Seek the well-being of Babylon. Love the new neighbors. Pray for your enemies. Your well-being depends on theirs.
Several thousand people from Jerusalem transplanted to Babylon. The Babylonians were not as harsh as some. The Israelites didn’t need to fear for their physical safety. They might easily have turned inward, kept focused on themselves. God says look outward. Health and healing comes as you reach out.
This can be the harder part. I can calm myself and foster my own well-being in the kitchen. I have fond memories of cooking in Nebraska. Yet the best times and the far more risky ones included sharing the food I cooked, leaning into a culture I didn’t understand, eating my neighbors’ food and learning their customs, being truly interested in and caring for them and letting them care for me.[v] When have you experienced this?
In Jeremiah’s letter, just a couple verses after what we read today, comes this wonderful promise: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your well-being and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”[vi] Plans for your well-being. Plans that include homemaking after loss and risking reaching out. Healing plans to give you a future with hope.
[i] Jeremiah 29:5-6
[ii] from The Message
[iii] Thanks to Kate Wiebe for much love through shared meals, welcoming me to use her kitchen and for this reflection on cooking as soul care: http://miheekimkort.com/2013/02/04/the-cure-of-souls-speaking-of-care/.
[iv] Jeremiah 29:7
[v] Thanks to all at First Presbyterian Church of Scottsbluff, Nebraska
[vi] Jeremiah 29:11
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