This is post seven in a series about spirituality, time, and place. Find the previous posts here:
You Are Your Stories
Own Your Story
Is Now Really All We Have?
Where Did You Come From?
Where Are You Going?
A Bigger Story
What does the word ‘home’ mean to you? What does it feel like for you to be ‘at home’? For many people the word conjures up images of family, togetherness, warmth, stability, security, and a shared history with loved ones.
In contrast, home has always been an elusive concept for me. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I lived in eleven different homes in the first seven years of my life. The first home I can remember was in Westfield, New Jersey in the United States where I lived from about the age of two to nearly five. Until my wife and I moved into our current home, I had always struggled with feeling a little homeless. But now I am very grateful to have finally found a place that feels more like home, especially as we navigate ‘sheltering-at-home’ through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most sacred texts root their narratives in a very specific geography. Almost any Bible you can purchase today will include maps of the Holy Land, usually with reference to Jesus’ ministry or the travels of the Apostle Paul. This is because knowing the geography helps us to enter into the story more deeply, and affects our interpretation. It also reminds us that every human story is located not just in time but also in space, and certain places come to have significance for us both as individuals and as communities.
Contrary to what some skeptics claim, the Inuit language has fifty words for snow. Which means that our language is influenced by our location. Since language is related to both culture and thought (although there is much debate about how) it seems fair to suggest that where we are has at least some influence on how we are. Or, in other words, our geography shapes us.
ENGAGING WITH SPACE
When we share or reflect on our personal stories, we may mention where specific events happened just to set the scene. But we often fail to reflect on the influence those places have had on us.
For example, most of us are aware of the social-economic impact that years of legislated, systemic racism have had on those who were marginalised in South Africa. But, when we imagine the lasting effect of growing up in an impoverished township with little in the way of water, sanitation, refuse removal, and power, we can begin to understand how apartheid’s legacy remains. Simply removing the legislation can never remove its impact on the majority of our population.
How then do we engage more meaningfully with space as a spiritual practice? The following suggestions may be helpful.
When reflecting on our story we can consider:
- Was the place where an experience happened pleasant or not? Was it safe or threatening?
- How did we feel in that place at the time, and how do we feel about it now as we look back?
- How did the location of the experience influence what happened? Was it helpful, or did the environment need to be overcome in some way?
- What elements of the place stand out in our memory? What is the significance of those elements for us?
We can also bring a more intentional spiritual awareness to our current experiences by asking these questions in the present moment.
WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
- How have you engaged with your geography in the past?
- Have you been aware of engaging with locations as part of your spiritual practice?
- How would you seek to use a geographical awareness as part of your regular spiritual practice?
- What locations have been particularly helpful for you, and which have not helped you at all? Why?
Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below. Let’s go deeper together.
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