Developing our sense of place and loving where we live.
As often as I can I slip away. Away from the busyness of PhDs and parenting, away to the sea. Down through the culvert under the railway line, which fills with a roar when the trains pass, down to the edge of the ocean.
Seasons change, come and go, but the eternal waves always cast themselves upon this shore. Sometimes it is in a rage, as the sea vents its fury against the land. Sometimes it is a peaceful lapping, the surface of the lough still and calm.
The heritage of this land complements the natural here. Distant lights twinkle on the dark waters. A boat slips by. I see the bastion walls of a castle some eight centuries old. Ages later, on the road I have just crossed to get here, marched an invading army. And even the red lights of a power station chimney – more recent still – sparkle in the darkness.
It is the intricate weaving together of history and natural history that make this place what it is: special, unique, even beautiful, in its own quiet way. Yet is somewhere I did not ever plan on living, somewhere that I did not ever want to live. It was too suburban, too domesticated, too plain. If only I lived where the mountains were higher, the landscapes wilder and the grass greener.
It’s not. And I don’t. It’s home. The Greek word for home, oikos, is one that most of us use on a daily basis, though probably without knowing it. It is the root word of ecology – the God-given creation that sustains and inspires us. It also gives us economy – one of the most profound ways in which we interact with and order that ecology, either for its benefit and ours, or to the detriment of both.
But it is oikophilia that I am concerned with here: a love of home, or a love of place. We need to develop oikophilia for wherever we call home, no matter how plain and boring, or even downright ugly, we think it might be. When we start to count the blessings of where we live – and look for the hidden beauty that is always there – we will start to fall in love with our home, whether for the first time or again and again.
It was Marcel Proust who said that ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ When we ask the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see the beauty of our homes, they come alive to us. Not only the dandelion pushing through the tarmac, or the gossamer spider-web strung across the window, but also the vast catalogue of human endeavour that has shaped where we live. It is this wonderful melding of the social and the natural that defines our lives on planet earth.
And at its beginning, God gave Adam and Eve a place to call home: Eden. In fact, throughout the biblical story people and their activities were never divorced from the land and its processes. Why should they be? God is the LORD of all creation, of every single species, of every single place.
What’s more, when He gave Canaan to the Hebrews of old the place was not only an inheritance from God but somewhere in which Yahweh was, as well as somewhere to be treated as Yahweh decreed. ‘You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel’ (Numbers 35:34).
If God is present in the places we call home – both within us and all around us, ever-present – then wherever we live, there really can be magic in the mundane and extraordinary in the everyday. Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked that we ought to ‘write it on our hearts that every day is the best day in the year.’ He was right. But whether it’s your place or mine, I say let us also write it on our hearts that everywhere is the best place in the world.
And what of that special shore I have grown to love and slip away to when I can? From it rose Andrew Jackson, a great leader who changed the history of his nation and the world. Beginning with the place we call home, and always out of love, the question for each of us is: will we?
Gloria in excelsis Deo.