Being uprooted affects how we live. Unattached, we lack a certain space that connects us to identity. Read on and take in Michelle Van Loon's insights.



By Michelle Van Loon

In varying degrees, we humans live as moving targets, trying to escape the existential grief of separation from God and others. This reality is at the heart of our wandering. Even if we have a relatively healthy family story, we all still experience the painful disconnect that comes from our uprootedness, our exile from Eden.

One of the big questions of life is "Who am I?" We may use physical, cultural, economic, or ethical responses to answer this question. While those externals can provide helpful clues to the question of who we are, they are not reliable reflectors of truth.

We are more than just the sum of our own life experiences. We also carry within us the exile history of our forebears.

I am a Jewish follower of Jesus. My people, the Jews, have been wanderers for a very long time. We've lived far from home throughout most of our history, dispersed among the nations of the world yet preserved as a people.

We've faced the Inquisition, waves of persecution, expulsion en masse from various countries, the pogroms in Russia, and the Holocaust.

To live as a member of a diaspora community means you are a part of a people group scattered from their ancient homeland. My people have been imprinted - perhaps all the way down to the cellular level - by generations of terror and trauma, by our diaspora experience.

I wasn't surprised to learn that scientists have discovered that the effect of one generation's trauma may well be transmitted genetically to subsequent generations. This relatively new (and somewhat controversial) field of study is called epigenetics, which means, literally, "above the gene."

Epigenetics researchers note that trauma changes the chemical structure surrounding our DNA. One generation's experience of suffering can be transmitted genetically to successive generations, heightening and intensifying physiological responses those descendants have to trauma and stress.

Not long ago, I heard a hint of the way this generational experience of wandering can impact us.

After my young adult son moved from the Midwest to Colorado, I asked him if he was homesick. Jacob told me he didn't feel he had the ability to miss a specific place. "I miss my family, but what I know how to do best is to keep moving."

He had only two homes during his growing up years, but he has generations of diaspora experience wired into his DNA. It's hard for grief to hit a moving target. He knows how to wander.

We all do. There is something familiar to every human being about the distress of damaged relationships, the disorientation of relocation, and the soul-altering grief of loss.

The things in this world that mark us as wanderers point to our exile from Eden. They leave us with a sense of homesickness that not even the coziest home or the most joyous family reunion can ever dispel.

The ache of the uprooted plant is why we wander. We are born seekers. But the ache of the uprooted plant is designed to graft us to the One who made us. Uprootedness is an uncomfortable identity and not one most of us would choose for ourselves.

Early church fathers said the state of humankind was that of the homo viator (traveler, pilgrim). We have been born to wander. The questions of where we're from or where we're going are clarified by this truth. They become one question: "Are we moving toward God or wandering away from him?"

Michelle Van Loon is the author of 5 books, including Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity and Moments and Days: How Our Holy Celebrations Shape Our Faith. She is a member of INK Creative Collective and the Pelican Project - a guild of women fostering commitment to Christian faith and practice across cultural, denominational, and racial lines. In addition, she is the co-founder of ThePerennialGen.com for midlife women and men. Connect with Michelle at michellevanloon.com.

Adapted from Born to Wander: Recovering the Value of Our Pilgrim Identity by Michelle Van Loon (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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