Walking through the front door of my childhood home, where my parents still live, feels like a warm hug. It’s a place where I can breathe deeply and rest completely, a place where I feel whole and secure. In the nearly 15 years since I left, I have lived in seven houses across five provinces. In many ways, this transient lifestyle has shaped my adult years as much as stability shaped my childhood.
This summer, we transitioned once again to a new city, a new community, a new house. We are busy exploring new landmarks and making new friends. We’ve left one place behind and are embracing another.
I’ve been thinking about place a lot lately. As Christians, we have a complicated relationship with place. When I was young, I recall being taught that this world is not our permanent home and to prepare ourselves for heaven. But as I read the Bible, I am reminded that God cares about places.
My children spent a whole month learning about the Genesis 1 and 2 accounts of creation this past spring. As I reviewed the story with them, it occurred to me that God put great effort into making places. He first created the sea, and then the fish. He first created the sky, and then the birds. He first created the garden, and then humanity.
It may seem obvious that God would create in this order, but I think there is something profound that God knew we needed somewhere to be—a place— before he created our form.
Only a few pages later in our Bibles we meet Abram, soon to be Abraham, whom God called to a place—to Canaan, the Promised Land. This place defined his God-given calling, not only his purpose but that of his children and grandchildren—as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Some years later, God called Moses to liberate the descendants of Abraham, not only from a place, slavery in Egypt, but also to a place, the land promised to Abraham.
I’ve heard it said that we must not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. This phrase would have confused the earliest Christians, who did not believe that they would “go to heaven” when they died, but rather celebrated that, in Jesus, God had come to live with them where they already were.
It all leads me to believe that place matters. It matters to God, and it matters to us. Yes, we are called to be pilgrims on a journey, and yet we recognize the importance of community for God’s children.
So, where does this leave us Christians, whose relationship with place is still so complex, so precarious?
We cannot neglect the space around us. As officers, where we are appointed affects the way we serve and how we live out our commission and calling. Our task is not merely to save souls, but to transform our communities. For all Christians, where we live and the places we visit affect how we experience God in nature and the community spaces around us. We cannot neglect the responsibility that God gives us to steward and care for the places in which we find ourselves. We must be mindful of those who have inhabited this place before us and must preserve it for future generations.
We must embrace place. I try to live by the saying “grow where you are planted.” This can be challenging for those who move often, but I firmly believe that we won’t grow if we don’t put down roots. While this involves ensuring our spiritual roots grow deep into Jesus (see Colossians 2:7), I also believe it involves getting to know our physical surroundings—building relationships with the people who live there, joining local community groups, exploring green spaces and eating at locally owned restaurants.
When the Israelites were living in exile in Babylon, God urged his people to “settle down” and to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jeremiah 29:4-7), and I believe he would advise all of us to do the same as we embrace the places in which we find ourselves.
Captain Laura Van Schaick is the corps officer at Barrhaven Church in Ottawa and the divisional secretary for women’s ministries in the Ontario Division.
Photo: Monkey Business/stock.Adobe.com
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