Last week in this space I reflected on the ways in which story can be passed on from generation to generation, particularly through song. Memories are carried through time and place in tunes which become part of our soul, part of our journey. I have been reminded this week of another source of story – place. Returning to old haunts provokes memories and provides opportunity for retelling the story.
This was brought home recently as our family toured South-Western Victoria where Ev and I met. As we wandered around venues where we were involved in coffee shop outreach, and visited a bakery which my own great-grandparents had owned around the turn of the twentieth century, we found ourselves reflecting on our family story and incorporating our children into previously unknown aspects of their heritage. I also sat on the foreshore and recalled communion services we had held on the beach to welcome in the new year, which rekindled a memory of praying in the Philippines with a group of guys: being battered by the waves, yet strengthened by the common bond we shared. Although separated by thousands of kilometres, those two experiences were joined together by the common element of space: the beach.
Place has an important role in shaping our spirituality. It remains central to the people of Israel, both in relation to the Promised Land, and in terms of memories of exile and persecution. It is important to Indigenous Australians, carrying as it does memory and story which shapes their identity. We have all felt the sense of security and welcome when returning to home after a time of absence.
Place remains important in our relationship with God. The first question God asks of humans in Scripture is one of place: “Where are you?” We are more inclined towards “Who are you?” or, “What are you doing?” Place is a central theme in the New Testament, with Jesus’ journey commencing in Galilee (rather than Jerusalem), and ending outside Jerusalem (rather than in the temple). God works throughout scripture to provide us with a place, beginning in Eden, moving to the Promised Land, then to a place at the table in celebration of the kingdom.
In journeying to other places, I have been reminded afresh of the power of place in shaping who we are, and in forming our understanding of God and His work.
Central to the Christian story is that God entered time and space: become one of us. I have been powerfully reminded of the importance of space in the journey of faith, not only in recalling history, but in shaping our present.
March 19, 2006