In our Lent book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen used the image of ‘home’ to describe the spiritual reality that we are loved by God, held in the palm of his hand. The foreign land in the story, then, becomes an image for our rebellion against God. I was struck in our Lent group by both the deliberate nature of our sin and the sense that we are ‘tossed around’ by it, we are held captive. And yet sometimes living in my sinful nature feels more natural and my attempts to return home feel difficult and at odds with this normal way of being. Nouwen tells us that this perception is not the reality, so why does it feel like that?

Over half term, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Berlin. For 4 days I was completely on my own. This is the first time I have been staying by myself, when abroad. I don’t speak German and despite most people in the capital speaking English, I felt out of my depth for a long time. There was a sense of dislocation. I literally felt ‘out of place.’ My first couple of days made me feel a certain disquiet. It most certainly didn’t feel natural. As time went by I did begin to settle. Quickly, I found a routine and enjoyed aspects of this new place. However I rarely felt at home.

It struck me that being in a real foreign land enabled me to experience the reality of sin in my life. Discord and a longing for home were characteristics that leapt out.

And yet there was one place I immediately felt at peace, where the discordant feeling was not present. Every day I made my way, at some point during the day, to St Hedwig’s Cathedral on the corner of Bebelplatz. Just down from the Brandenburg Gate and right in the heart of the old Prussian Royal area, the Cathedral was built by Frederick the Great for Catholic Immigrants from Upper Silesia.

A Cathedral built for strangers and immigrants.

The Cathedral is small, simple and very beautiful. It is a wonderful place to pray. Here, in God’s presence I felt ‘at home’. I was surrounded by people I didn’t know, whose language I didn’t speak but it didn’t matter. We were all in the presence of the Father and it felt good.

So, over half term I lived out the difference between ‘home’ and being in a ‘foreign land’ literally and spiritually. It reminded me that it is only in God’s presence that can we see the discord and alien nature of our lives apart from him.