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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Psalms and the pursuit of happiness | The power of belonging

My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

PSALM 84:2–4 NRSV

 


 

What’s your dream home?

This question underlies many a TV programme, whether that’s looking for beautiful houses, doing up a house, or trying to find the perfect combination of building and location. It would be easy to dismiss the search for a perfect house as missing the point. Home is about much, much more than a physical building.

And yet, human beings are made of flesh and blood, we have bodies, we need safe spaces, places to rest, places to go back to. The need for home is both psychological and physical. Home is about belonging, and our physical surroundings help us do that, as do the people we love, and the landscapes and communities we are rooted in.

Finding somewhere to belong is part of the pursuit of happiness. Unbelonging, on the other hand, is typically associated with distress, pain, and trauma. The people of Israel search for a home throughout much of the Old Testament, and are torn apart from home through the exile. The loss of home is a loss of identity, of connection, and a consistent source of lament in the Psalms and writings of the prophets.

The question is where do we belong? And how is our ‘belonging’ shaped by our identity as the people of God? Belonging cannot be individualistic – home isn’t simply about my own flat, house, or room. It’s about connected networks of houses, neighbourhoods, and communities, at work, in families, and with friends. Home is a deeply Christian concept – Jesus promises to make his home with us (John 14:23).

In this psalm, the people of Israel sing of home. In a world where they have experienced exile, they look at a sparrow’s nest with envy. They long for Jerusalem’s ruined temple. Yet here, ‘home’ takes on a bigger dimension: home is where God is – and God is not restricted geographically. The people long to belong to a physical space, and yet they are reminded that they belong with God – always. That belonging can be a form of happiness, even in the midst of deep, traumatising displacement. Life is lived somewhere in this tension between conflicting, sometimes contradictory emotions, and neither cancels the other.

This week, maybe you could find your nearest refugee forum and befriend someone. Or spend some time with a homeless person, sitting with them to share their home on the street. Or find somebody who has just moved into the area and invite them to your home to help them start putting down roots.

Revd Prebendary Dr Isabelle Hamley
Secretary for Theology and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops

In a world where we are surrounded by refugees, homelessness, and social isolation, how can you make your community ‘home’ for those who feel exiled, left behind, without a place of their own? Join the conversation below.

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