Why do places matter so much?

Wine and BreadI used to journal more than I do now. When that was more of a habit of mine, I always used to note the place from which I wrote my entry. Sometimes they would be “the usual” – my dorm room, my office, my living room. But then sometimes I would be sitting on the lawn of Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, or on the beach at RUF Summer Conference, or somewhere camping in Oklahoma. When I read my words, I could remember that place – the entry felt richer somehow.

Right now I’m sitting in a library at Laity Lodge in the Hill Country of Texas, at a retreat some of our church members signed me up for. We’ve been listening to Earl Palmer talk about 2 Timothy and Eric Jacobsen talk about the significance of place. Today, I’ve studied the scriptures, eaten great food, tried to nap but couldn’t, taken a walk and a swim, met new people, read from the Psalms, read David Sedaris, and thought about City Pres/my life/my family/my wife… here.

In the midst of a more postmodern identity where we so often feel so much more unrooted from a place – because of Facebook, our standardization of consumerism, our ambiguous individualism, the sterility, the loneliness, the aggressive realism (to borrow from Albert Borgman) – we need what Alasdair MacIntyre calls Focal Practices.

Focal Practices are ways we can practice virtues in the midst of our crazy lives and find a place for ourselves, a rootedness, a way forward that takes our bodies and physical environment seriously. Eric Jacobson talked about seeking the shalom of the city by creating redemptive practices (along with eradicating social ills). He mentioned ideas like bicycling, walking, family meals, even chicken farming as a family.

And he said the church should remember the liturgies inherent in a visible gathering each week on the Lord’s Day to mark the time and place in our lives. That we have an engaged dismissal, where we go out into the world as a blessing to it. And of course, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, where we take the body and blood of Jesus to ourselves. We have to be there for that. You can’t do it online. There’s a physicality to it, a sense of place and community as we rise, go forward, stand together, touch/smell/taste/hear the elements and the words. It roots us in a time: a history, a redemption purchased in the past that is present and real today and that has a future hope not yet fully finished yet enough and powerful for this day, this week, this moment.

Headshot 2 Nicole Hager