On Tents and True Homes

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Last week’s column spoke about the new phase we are entering in post-Super typhoon recovery. Clean-up is, in large part, complete and now it is time to rebuild.

The timing seems right; we find ourselves at the start of both a new liturgical and a new calendar year. It’s a great time for new beginnings and fresh starts.

Out of the back window of my apartment I can see tents pitched throughout the Chalan Kanoa neighborhood. Some light tan-colored ones as well as the smaller deep grey tents. The rubble has been cleared out and any available space is being used for tents now—sometimes several next to each other as households converge in order to accommodate relatives who might not have any available outdoor space on their own lot.

This is a form of shelter which has become common now, however temporary it is meant to be.

In the Old Testament, the patriarch Abraham and others lived in tents because they were semi-nomadic, moving from place to place and without a home. For forty years, the Israelites wandered the desert and lived in tents along the way. In the Bible, a tent is meant as an image for home, but also for the journey.

Fr. James Balajadia offered a Christmas reflection on this subject at the family Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Jude Church. When the Gospel of John speaks of “the Word of God” having come to dwell with us, the literal phrasing is that he “pitched His tent” among us.

The point is that God did not remain removed and faraway in heaven, but came to Earth to live among us, side-by-side as our neighbor and sharing the same lifestyle. Father James used the image because it is one that we can directly connect to in our local reality: tents are part of the island lifestyle right now.

After Yutu, the tents here in our islands are homes for now, but also hold the promise of a future and more permanent home.

Jesus, our brother and neighbor, lived His life as one of us. And he pointed to a deeper reality as in Himself he embodied in physical form all of the characteristics of God the Father which were already familiar to the people of Israel: close and caring, compassionate and loving:

“You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat,” reads Isaiah 25:4.

This is a truth to be cherished this Christmas and New Year season, along the (sometimes tiring) journey to full recovery: we are waiting for new homes, but God is himself our home. God is our provider and the one who shelters us, and God sent His Son to pitch his tent next to ours.

Take comfort in the God who is not distant, but here with us already, rebuilding us from the inside and making His home in us.

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