One of the fine pleasures of a few days off (which I had last week) was, at last, having the time and space to savor Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home. Robinson’s two earlier novels, Housekeeping and Gilead (to which Home is intricately related), are among the most well-wrought novels I had read, so I eagerly anticipated Home. It is a stunning book, filled with tender and truthful realism about faith and doubt, home and homesickness, our craving for, and resistance to, love, and, as Faulkner once described it, “the human heart in conflict with itself.”

Early in the book, Glory Boughton, daughter and now caretaker of her aging father, Reverend Boughton, reflects on the meaning of “church” for her–a meaning informed by her experience of growing up in a church her father served as pastor:

For her, church was an airy, white room with tall windows looking out of God’s good world, with God’s good sunlight pouring in through those windows and falling across the pulpit where her father stood, straight and strong, parsing the broken heart of humankind and praising the loving heart of Christ. That was church.

Whatever the shape and size of the room, I think church is, or can be, exactly that: the place, the community, where all of us “parse the broken heart of humankind and praise the loving heart of Christ.” Church is where we give honest voice to what breaks our hearts and where we open ourselves to the healing, restoring, and joy-giving love of Christ.