STLT#356, Will You Seek in Far-Off Places?

Among the things I have learned in almost a year of doing this practice is that I am sometimes the outlier – sometimes I see something in a hymn others don’t see that makes me anxious or angry or bored. I know some of it is that I do this before the coffee’s kicked in, but really, there are times that I just don’t get why we would want to include a particular song as part of our living tradition, as it feels wrong to me.

I say all this because I suspect few will feel as I do about this hymn, with lyrics by Alicia Carpenter, set to the haunting Guter Hilte tune: This hymn is scolding me, the way a Hobbit might have scolded Bilbo or Frodo.

Will you seek in far-off places?
Surely you come home at last;
in familiar forms and faces,
things best known, you find the best.

Joy and peace are in this hour,
here, not in another place.
Here in this beloved flower;
now, in this beloved face.

I can’t even with this one. “Surely you come home at last” because of course family’s the best. What if family isn’t the best and is in fact harmful? What if we want to see the world? What if we are called to another place? What if home is a landscape with flowers that don’t inspire but far off is the one that comforts our soul?

Look. I get that this is about appreciating what we have around us, and if it’s true that Carpenter was inspired by a Walt Whitman poem I can’t seem to find (Between the Lines notes that it’s inspired by “Here and Now” – anyone know what poem it’s talking about?), then it’s got that whole transcendentalist thing happening.

But surely you shouldn’t scold me into staying where I don’t want to be, or looking for something more.

4 responses to “STLT#356, Will You Seek in Far-Off Places?”

  1. I see your point. But so many people who leave toxic homes find or build a new and better home. For many of them, it’s a church home, at least in part.

  2. I just always thought it was about finding the holy in the familiar. It’s not about that trip to appropriate the holy sites of something else. Search here. Look here. In the eyes of your dog or the beauty that is so familiar you’ve forgotten it’s holy.

    1. Okay, I can see that. Thanks. 🙂

  3. Walt Whitman’s family life could be pretty grim. I think he would share your conviction that one’s family of origin is not always made up of “beloved faces”–not to suggest that he didn’t love the alcoholic members of his family (of whom there were at least three), but that he knew as well as anyone that the family home isn’t a bed of roses.

    The context of the original poem is about respect for plain folk, the working people for whom he held such reverence. So even though, as in the adaptation, he does praise the familiar–whoever is close at hand and best-known to us–it is much more in the spirit of “Don’t give the familiar short shrift just because it is familiar” than “Be content with whatever hand you were dealt.”

    Here’s the poem on which Carpenter was drawing.

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