Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Places

"Wilderness"
-the view from my front door-

In his newly published book, Unruly Places, travel author Alistair Bonnett talks about the impact "place" has on the way people see themselves and how they understand their worlds. The physical, geographic location, the place in which we make our home, where we go to sleep at night and wake up again the next day, forms us and fashions us. 

We often hear the expression, "you are what you eat," so also "you are where you live." Our geography seeps into our bones - into our minds and into our hearts. In his book, Bonnett observes:

Place is a protean and fundamental aspect of what it means to be a human being.
We are a place-making and place-loving species.

This all makes so much sense to me.  I often hear people talk about being a "city person" or a "country person," and I get that. I've lived in both settings and I literally "became" something of those places where I lived.   

When I was younger I lived on a farm in a very rural setting. Although that was years ago, I can still smell the hay in the barn and hear the sound of the animals - the sight of newly planted crops springing up from the fertile earth in growing season still nurtures me to this very day. When I lived in the country, I became a "country person, " a lover of all creatures great and small, a lover of the earth and it's bounty, and to this very day something of the country still remains with me -- deep in my bones.

I also have lived in cities, most recently in Los Angeles, perhaps the most diverse city on the planet. Every day, wherever I went, I was constantly immersed in a sea of differences, different languages, different colored faces, different cultures. Every day I walked amid the rich and the famous, the Hollywood glitterati living in Beverly Hills' mansions right alongside the homeless and destitute begging for food and living in boxes on the streets. Living in a city made me into a "city person," relishing and embracing the beauty of the rainbow of differences woven into the fabric of humanity,  keenly aware of the plight of the poor and needy.  Something of the city still remains with me -- deep in my bones.  

But now I live in a desert and I have become a "desert person."  The place in which I live is forming me and fashioning me. I see myself and I see the world through a desert lens, and I have even come to see "God" through desert eyes. I am becoming the desert. 

In some sense the desert is perhaps the most "honest" place I have ever lived.  The desert wilderness portrays life as it really is. The desert is a place where there are no street signs, not even any well-paved streets to help one plot a course. Instead, the desert is a wild, fiercely beautiful place, untamed, vast, and uncontrollable - and for the most part so is "life." 

The paradox of being a desert person is that while the space is void and empty, a sometimes terrifying place over which I have no control, it is also a place in which I feel a constant sense of tender belonging. The desert has heightened my sense of intimacy with the people who walk through life with me, my spouse and family, friends and neighbors, even strangers whom I have never met- all fellow travelers on the wilderness way. 

But above all, in the midst of this fiercely empty space there is always an abundant sense of  Presence- an abiding Holy Presence," -- "God" always at the center of the emptiness. I am becoming the place in which I live- it is seeping deep into my bones. 

Lots of people nowadays spend the majority of their time sitting in front of a computer every day, living in a world of cyberspace. But none us actually "lives" in cyberspace, we live in a real-life, actual physical place. Summertime is a good season to pull the plug on the computer (at least for a while) and go sit in our "places," learning the lessons they all have to teach.







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