I love that line. “Surely the LORD is in this place,” Jacob muses, “and I was not aware of it.” Isn’t that, more or less, the story with most of us, most of the time?
Archytas of Terentum
To be is to be in place.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
In the Old Testament there is no timeless space, but there is also no spaceless time. There is rather storied place, that is a place which has meaning because of the history lodged there. There are stories which have authority because they are located in a place. This means that biblical faith cannot be presented simply as an historical movement indifferent to place which could have happened in one setting as well as another, because it is undeniably fixed in this place with this meaning. And for all its apparent ‘spiritualising’, the New Testament does not escape this rootage.
My body continually takes me into place. It is at once agent and vehicle, articulator and witness of being-in-place.
The witness of the New Testament is, therefore, twofold: it transcends the land, Jerusalem, the Temple. Yes: but its History and Theology demand a concern with these realities also. Is there a reconciling principle in these apparently contradictory attitudes? There is. By implication, it has already been suggested, the New Testament finds holy space wherever Christ is or has been: it personalises ‘holy space’ in Christ who, as a figure of History, is rooted in the land; he cleansed the Temple and died in Jerusalem, and lends his glory to these and to the places where he was but, as Living Lord, he is also free to move wherever he wills. To do justice to the personalism of the New Testament, that is, to its Christocentricity, is to find a clue to the various strata of tradition that we have traced and to the attitudes they reveal: to their freedom from space and their attachment to spaces.
We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ’s Cross and Adam’s Tree, stood in one place;
Look Lord and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.
Hymn: “to God, My God, in My Sickness”
There is no mere world or matters of fact for covenant theology; there is always the wonder and duty to the concrete moment at hand, where God’s illimitable gift of life is given into our hands – to hear and do what is here and now. Theology does not change nature as such, but rather transforms its reception, through spiritual consciousness. Brute facticity remains, while being simultaneously transfigured.
We can’t locate ourselves, much less find ourselves, apart from the places we inhabit.
Entering a place that is new to us, or seeing a familiar place anew, we move from part to part, simultaneously perceiving individual persons and things and discovering their relationships, so that, with time, place reveals itself as particular identities belonging to a network, which continually extends with our perception, and beyond it. And by this process we find ourselves, not as observers only, but as inhabitants, citizens, neighbours, and locate ourselves in a space dense with images.
‘One is Trying to Make a Shape’, in David Jones Journal, 1998, 15.
One only needs to open the Bible at the beginning of Genesis and read a few pages to be left with the impression that place is important to the writer. The second creation account (Genesis 2) revolves around place: the Garden of Eden is not just the location where the drama happens to unfold, it is central to the narrative.
To inhabit a place is to dwell there in a practised way, in a way which relies upon certain regular, trusted, habits of behaviour. Our prevailing, individualistic frame of mind has led us to forget this root sense of the concept of ‘inhabitation.’ We take it for granted that the way we live in a place is a matter of individual choice (more or less regulated by bureaucratic regulations). We have largely lost the sense that our capacity to live well in a place might depend upon our ability to relate to neighbours (especially neighbours with a different life-style) on the basis of shared habits of behaviour…. In fact, no real public life is possible except among people who are engaged in the project of inhabiting a place.
Yahweh, unlike the mountain and fertility gods of the ancient Canaanites, refuses to be bound by any geographical locale. All of the ‘high places’ pretending to capture the divine presence must be torn down as idolatrous in the highest degree. The prophet Nathan warns David, as he plans to build the temple, that no-one can presume to build a house for God. Yahweh, the one who dwells in thick darkness, will not remain on call’ in Jerusalem, at the behest of the king (2 Samuel 7). A theology of transcendence will never be fully comfortable with place. Hence, the tension between place and placelessness remains a fiercely vigorous one, struggling to understand the truth of a great and transcendent God revealed in the particularity of place.
‘Landscape and Spirituality: A Tension between Place and Placelessness in Christian Thought’, The Way Supplement.
The Latin words humus, soil/earth, and homo, human being, have a common derivation, from which we also get our word ‘humble.’ This is the Genesis origin of who we are: dust – dust that the Lord God used to make us a human being. If we cultivate a lively sense of our origin and nurture a sense of continuity with it, who knows, we may also acquire humility.
Never in history has distance meant less. . . . Figuratively we “use up” places and dispose of them much in the same way we dispose of Kleenex or beer cans. We are witnessing a historic decline in the significance of place to human life. We are breeding a new race of nomads, and few suspect quite how massive, widespread and significant their migrations are.
While the incarnation does not mean that God is limited by space and time, // asserts the reality of space and time for God in the actuality of His relations with us, and at the same time binds us to space and time in our relations with Him. We can no more contract out of space and time than we can contract out of the creature-Creator relationship and God ‘can’ no more contract out of space and time than He ‘can’ go back on the Incarnation of His Son or retreat from the love in which He made the world, with which he loves it, through which He redeems it, and by which He is pledged to uphold it – pledged, that is, by the very love that God himself is and which He has once for all embodied in our existence in the person and being of Jesus Christ.
First, God placed humans here on earth to work the land where we are standing. The Hebrew here literally means to “serve” the land, implying that we humans are designed to serve the place where we live, not be served by it. Second, humans are created to “keep” the place around us. This Hebrew word is rich in meaning, signifying “to take care of something” or even “to exercise great care” over something.
Taken from The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good by Don Everts Copyright (c) 2020 by Don Everts. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
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