I have lived in central PA for nearly 25 years. This is literally my home now. But I am not from here. My family and many friends from the previous parts of my life are back in the Midwest. So every year, we make the journey to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. This year, it is uncertain, and that makes me sad.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my life here. It is a beautiful place. Lemont and State College have much to offer between the resources of the university community, the advantages of a small town, the beauty of mountains and forests, the connection of our neighborhood. I can get milk in glass bottles from local cows, visit lots of local farmer’s markets, talk with all sorts of people from a places all over the world, find a variety of interesting activities and events, and other than when there is football traffic, I can get anywhere in town in about 15 minutes. It is a rich life that suits me and my interests. But this isn’t where I am from.
I am from a place with flat lands. Plains grasses. Rolling hills. Wide roads laid out in a grid. Great lakes. Chicago neighborhoods. Small town Wisconsin and small town Iowa. Meandering streams. The mighty Mississippi River. Friday fish fry. Friends who knew me when I was young. Classmates from high school and college and seminary. The places I knew and loved when I was a child.
Despite the risks because of Covid-19, it looks like we will make a careful trip to see my dad in Chicago this month. After driving west for 3 or 4 hours, somewhere in eastern Ohio, I’ll realize we’ve left the lovely mountains behind. As I look out at farmland on all sides, I will take a deep breath and say, “I can see for miles.” I have probably said that every year. It’s become my way of saying, “I am going home.”
The landscape of the places where I grew up and came of age speak to my spirit differently than the place I make my home now. There are huge skies, stormclouds like you cannot imagine, wind that never stops, rain and tornados you can see from miles away. People with my accent, and places that I remember from when I was very small.
Years ago, I talked about all this with a friend who lived and worked for decades in San Diego, California. There on the beach, with perfect weather almost every day, he lived in a paradise. Like me, he found his summer visits home, to the places he had grown up in Iowa, brought a kind of joy that other people couldn’t quite understand. We agreed that for some of us, there is a landscape that is home to your heart.
This summer, may we all find time to spend in the place that is home.
God of every place,
You are with me everywhere I go.
I see you in the beauty of the mountains and the strength of the winds.
I find you in the gently waving prairie grass and farm fields.
I hear you in the songs of birds and the roar of the waves.
I know you are with me here.
I see you in the faces of my family and friends.
I find you in the presence of strangers and people I will never meet.
I hear you in the voices and music and traffic of the city, and the silence when I am alone.
I know you are with me here.