Strange it is that at a time when the world was clamoring for things old, the Church was bent on providing new and different things -- from worship to piety to the faith itself. I am reminded of the desire for antiques and in particular for those things that remind us of our past, of our homes, and of an age long gone except in our hearts.
Some would write this off as mere nostalgia. Backward looking people who love to fear the future most of all. But it is far more than this. Nostalgia, as the Greek roots indicate, is a pain or ache (algea) we feel for our “home” (nostron): “pain for the return, ache for the homecoming.” It is an essential longing not simply for the ambiance of the past but for a home. Anthony Esolen wrote of this in his book a year ago that I have just gotten around to begin (Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World).
Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again but that has not stopped us from trying. Man made religion was invented for just this purpose -- to answer the longing within for our Creator and to give some order to the chaos around us. But man made religion has done nothing to show us where home is or provide a path to that home. So the modern world has accepted the longing and attempted to make peace with it. Music, even popular music, remains the place where this longing continues to be expressed.
While it could be written off as the melancholy want of a pristine age or perfect moment, unmarred by unpleasant and hurtful realities, it is not this. It is the ache for a place and a home in a world where change happens with a rapidity that leaves us dazed and confused. It is the pain that fills us at the thought of life without purpose or direction or end. It is the emptiness of a life without destiny.
As I write this I have returned from the cemetery after a funeral of a member. We gave God praise for the earthly life of the deceased but more than this we gave God praise that this man's life had a direction and destiny greater than the world and greater than this life only. Begun in baptismal waters when mother and father brought him to the font, this destiny is now complete. The funeral celebrates his homecoming while we still ache for that day when tears no longer flow, bodies no longer grow weak and frail, memories no longer fade, fears no longer threaten, sins no longer convict, and death no longer looms over us.
The Church provides a glimpse of this future, a foretaste of our end in the happiness of God's destiny and a home that is finally home and finally forever. The Church is the voice of anticipation in a world which can only look back and wish. She sees not only where we began and around to see where that beginning has led but forward to what that journey will end. Twists and turns no more, the end is the God whose breath gave us life and whose life is now our breath forevermore.
The funeral gives us pause to remember that life is not an aimless wandering but a directed journey we may not see or realize or even know until it is there. God has planted in us this ache for that future and a pain that will not ease until it is revealed and we are there. This is a good thing.