Here is a beautiful country song, "The House That Built Me." [HT: Jill Stanek] It's sung by Miranda Lambert. I hadn't heard of her (I don't follow country music, though I do like it), but it seems she is a rising star in the country music world since she just won some big awards at the recent CMA awards show, including Female Vocalist of the Year. Take a listen. As you do, ask yourself, what is implied in a desire to learn something about myself through making physical contact with meaningful places from my childhood?
I'll bet this song strikes a chord with many people because it touches one of those fundamental themes that seems to be common to all people--a yearning to go home. In this song, it's a desire to make a visit to the house of one's childhood in order to kindle and relive cherished memories from the past. And, I think, also to gain a deeper insight into the person you have become as an adult. Sort of an imaginary look back at the child you once were from the perspective of adulthood, precipitated by a physical place that has a special meaning to your youthful self.
There is something mysteriously attractive about returning to special childhood places after you have grown beyond childhood. It's part, perhaps, of our continuing search to seek to know ourselves more truly, to answer that question, "Who am I?" The physical places where we lived and underwent our most formative experiences as a child seem to hold some essential piece to the puzzle of our true identity. And, there is probably no physical place more important in this regard than our childhood home.
I also tend to link this to the religious impulse that God has placed within us. By nature, we have a hidden, secret yearning to go home--to a home that is our true home, that place of genuine peace and belonging and deep, unquenchable joy. We want to find this place. And we seem to have a desire to connect this true home that we seek to that childhood place from which we came. Somehow, we sense that they are--or at least, should be--related.
Plato recognized that every human being who examines himself interiorly with some degree of seriousness discovers that he has certain longings and mysterious traces of understanding within his soul that could be interpreted as dim vestiges of a life before birth, barely discernible in the hidden and deepest depths of the soul. It's a kind of home, out of which one was taken, to be born into this world.
Now, as Christians, we realize that this is not true--we do not preexist the moment of our conception in our mother's womb. But, there is a trace here of something that is true. We come from God--we are loved by God into existence. And He knew us before we existed. We have a "home" from which we came that lovingly wove into our being a certain directedness to go back, to make a return to that place from which we came. We have a kind of spiritual homing beacon, pointing us back to God. And even though we may not realize it, when we seek to understand ourselves better by revisiting a cherished childhood home, we are also at the same time expressing in a mysterious way our desire to see more clearly where it is that we are headed toward--to gain some insight into that more perfect home toward which we want to go.
And although we can overdo this, it is true that the path into our future can be made a little bit more clear and understandable by going back to our past. And because we are bodily as well as spiritual creatures, this self-discovery-through-childhood-home-visiting necessarily has a physical aspect to it. As we touch and look upon a place which because of our personal past is special to our heart, without consciously trying, perhaps without even realizing this, we are also seeking to make our vision into our personal future a little more known to ourselves.
I listen to this song and watch this video, and to me, it's as though this song were saying on behalf of human society, "Oh house that built me, home of my past, tell me, to where am I going? What does my past life in your surroundings tell me about the as yet now-unseen place in which my heart desires to finally be?"