I wonder if the prodigal son, upon returning to his father's house, ever longed for the city he left behind. I imagine him entering the rooms and hallways of his childhood, and being enveloped by their familiarity. He sits at the family table. He does his share of household chores. His mind wanders, though, and he is unsure if he can truly come back. The time away has changed him. Sometimes I feel like the characters in Biblical stories of alienation - Eve, having eaten of both the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, born into the Garden of Eden but finishing her days in a wilderness. Mephibosheth dining with King David, welcomed as royalty, but with his legs, still lame, hidden beneath the table. Lot's wife, fleeing Sodom at the angel’s warning, but finally unable to turn from her doomed city even as it is set ablaze.
I am sure the prodigal son wanted to be in his father's house - he walked the distance home. I also long to be at home in my father's presence, but am not sure that I know how to live here any longer. The prodigal son came home smelling like his life abroad; Eve tasted the fruit of two trees and sensed both aromas lingering in her mouth. Mephibosheth was honored in David's house, but even as a resident in the palace, he was crippled, and I wonder if I am like him in thinking that regardless of the welcome home, I have been away too long and have become too foreign to stay. My husband says the voice of God sounds like the voice of everyone you have ever loved. I imagine the prodigal son in a faraway land, resolutely distanced from home, hearing echoes of his father nonetheless. In a moment of pain, he catches a compassionate look on the face of a stranger. He stumbles one day in the street, and a hand in the crowd reaches his side and steadies him. He remembers the touch of his father, and for a moment, longs for the house in which he was raised. I ask the Lord how I can be made whole. I seem to have lost the memory of what I was like before I left home, and now that I have returned, I feel as if I am bending my body to inhabit a place that was prepared for me before I changed.
The Lord says he remembers everything. He remembers when I was only an idea in his mind. He remembers how I felt, newly formed, resting in the palm of his hand. When my memory eroded, he retained the memory of me; he is the one who keeps the robe and ring at ready, a candle burning through the night, anticipating the moments I come to my right mind and turn towards him once again.
There were years in which I imagined myself to be a stranger in a strange land. In those years, he surrounded me. Though I didn't recognize him then, he was present in every instance of goodness, tutoring me in the ways of his household and causing me to ache for the family I was born to. He led me with cords of human kindness until my feet stopped at his doorstep, and when I arrived, he embraced me, re-teaching me the posture of tenderness I had forgotten.
He says he is the keeper of the house I have returned to. He is also the map home.