Where can I go from your spirit?Psalm 139:7–12 (NRSV)
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
The home as refuge
Is your home your spiritual castle? The origins of the proverb ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’ date back to the 16th century, when in 1581 Henri Estienne stated that ‘youre house is youre Castell’. In the same year Richard Mulcaster, the headmaster of the Merchant Taylor’s School in London, wrote, ‘He [the householder] is the appointer of his owne circumstance, and his house is his castle.’
Seventy years later, the lawyer and politician Sir Edward Coke established the idea in law) that: ‘a man’s house is his castle, et domussua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and one’s home is one’s safest refuge].’
Another century later and none other than William Pitt the Elder said in Parliament:
The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter– the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.
Notwithstanding the modern right of the police and bailiffs to force their way into premises with the necessary warrant or court order, we generally believe and behave as though our homes are private and open only to those whom we invite in.
In our homes, we flee from the presence of all but our nearest and dearest. While for some it can be a place of domestic violence, treachery or strife, or memories of loved ones lost, for many the home is a sanctuary, a safe haven and the place where not only our hearts but also our belongings are housed!
These past twelve months our homes have taken on a different feel: secure sanctuaries perhaps, but also castles of confinement or isolation during lockdowns. So often we have been told to ‘stay at home’, such that our homes feel different, and we are again ‘at home in Lent’.
‘So often we have been told to “stay at home”, such that our homes feel different, and we are again “at home in Lent”.’
Finding God in the home
Nevertheless, as the psalmist reminds us, there is no place where we can flee from the presence of God. Against the temptation to hide or run away from the Lord, we invite you to discover how he is already in our homes.
Our biblical ancestors did not have anything like as much ‘stuff’ as we do, but some of the things we possess have long histories, while other modern gadgets and household paraphernalia have something to say to us about the world in which we live and move and have our being, and about the God from whom all art and science comes.
For the way we live is a spiritual as well as a practical matter, and under God it is good to reflect on the things we take much for granted. The Holy Spirit of God is everywhere and in everything, if we only look with the right eyes and a humble frame of mind.
‘The way we live is a spiritual as well as a practical matter.’
During Lent, we are called to read and reflect, to be penitent and patient, and to journey towards the renewing light of the Easter dawn. This year will remind us of last year as we remain mostly at home. But when Easter comes it is my hope and prayer for you, gentle reader, that the journey around your home will cast Passiontide and Easter in a different hue, and that the Lord will have been with you in everything, and everywhere.
This article is adapted from the introduction to At Home in Lent. Unlike its successor book, At Home in Advent, At Home in Lent was written before lockdowns were dreamt of, but it has become more pertinent and poignant for it.