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Hallo again to all.


The word appears about 150 times in modern translations of the Bible. Although the word isn't there in older translations, the concept is. Being involuntarily away from the place you think of as home, without permission to return. Being exiled was and is a powerful punishment.

No one ever referred to slaves, snatched from their home and kept as chattel, as 'exiles'. But they were just as exiled as someone whose punishment was to be sent to Babylon. No one ever referred to colonists, who left their homeland in search of a better life, as 'exiles'. But they were separated from their homeland and in general unable to return even if they discovered that it was all a mistake. The return was just too expensive. An unhappy colonist was in self-imposed exile.

People who are far away from their home (regardless of the reason) usually mention wanting to return home to die. 'Emerald City is a nice place, but I don't want to die here.' But some do die in foreign lands. In colonized lands prior to the 19th century, there was often no churchyard or formal burial ground in which to inter the dead, so people just improvised. The picture below shows a plot of land by the side of a road in which about 70 souls were buried in exile from 1747 to 1908.

Mary Lemont was born in County Down, Ireland into a Church of Ireland family sometime around 1680, and emigrated to the New World in 1722 with her husband Thomas to join their son John, who had emigrated earlier. They built a log cabin on an estuary not far from the ocean and settled there, naming the place 'Dromore'. Mary died in the early winter of 1743, and no one knew quite where to bury her. Hers was the first death in their little community. But the previous week an English neighbor named George Rogers had died and had been buried at the edge of his farmland. His still-grieving widow Isabella allowed Mary to be buried on Rogers land not far from her husband, and a month later was herself buried next to her husband, not far from Mary. There were no towns, churches, settlements, or communities anywhere nearby.

With three graves there, it became a de facto cemetery, and was used until 1908 by the protestant Irish community there. Knowing that they would never return to County Down, being buried in Dromore Cemetery, overlooking Drummore Bay, was the best they could do. Exiled in death, at least their mortal remains were in a place named Dromore, near other Protestant Irish immigrants.

Today in the age of global migration and travel, it is common to ship the remains of a deceased person thousands of miles back to the place he thought of as home, even if he hasn't lived there in half a century. The bond to place is often stronger than the bond to spouse: we can think of numerous cases in which husband and wife have each been buried in their own place, rather than together. The once-common practice of a joint gravestone is increasingly rare.

The exile phenomenon affects more than burials. The deep-seated aversion to exile seems to be part of modern church life. For example, while people often explain that 'the church is the congregation, not the building' it is obvious from the fierce legal battles over church property (in countries where such a battle has legal standing) that not being exiled from one's church building is important. To some extent, the church, as a church home, really is the building.

See you next week. Right here.

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13 October 2013

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