Sacred Places

“We live in virtual relationships,” Kaycee explained during a group discussion of The Intellectual Life[1].  Russ added, “We serve Facebook, rather than allowing Facebook to serve us.”  “We only have so much time,” Katie rightly ascertained, “Only so much emotion to give.  Can we continue far-flung relationships with those whom we no longer live?”

Sertillanges, author of The Intellectual Life, remarked on organizing one’s life

Avoid, even with these, the excessive familiarity which drags one down and away from one’s purpose; do not run after news that occupies the mind to no purpose; do not busy yourself with the sayings and doings of the world, that is with such as have no moral or intellectual bearing; avoid useless comings and goings which waste hours and fill the mind with wandering thoughts. (The Intellectual Life, 47).

The conversation continued in rapid fashion.  Post-bachelor degree discussion parsed word choices and exegeted others’ comments, making sure of what they heard.  But I was struck by my compatriots’ acknowledgement, the unstated need, for relationship in proximity.  How much do we have need for longevity in a place to build physical, visible relations with others?  How necessary is the day-in-day-out connection with folks who know us best, in all our moods, situations, interactions?

The intentional choice to live a long time in one place cements “the first association of the intellectual . . . with his fellows” (Sertillanges, 54).  We think alone but we must think together.  Mobile Americans, however, are not establishing roots in communities.  As the Indianapolis Star reported,

While promotions or new, better-paying jobs typically mean new wealth, the increasingly rootless habits of Americans has come at a price, leading to declining participation in neighborhood organizations and local politics and frayed connections to the community at large. “The overall impetus in society is towards mobility, of searching for prosperity,” said Scott Russell Sanders, author of the book Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World.  “(But) we are so enamored of mobility that we don’t recognize what is being lost in the process.”[2]

What is necessary is a place.  Michael Pollan in his book A Place of My Own[3] declares that ground is “sacred” (51) that each of us looks for a “privileged place” (41) which is “invested with meaning” (39).

“Sacred places” began with “the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  Yahweh gave land to Israel (Genesis 12:1-3), “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), where boundary stones would secure “a place of my own” for Israelites (Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:1).  In an early response to care of creation Heaven’s injunction included, “Are the trees of the field people that you should besiege them?” (Deuteronomy 20:19).  One of Judah’s great kings Uzziah was said to have “loved the soil” (2 Chronicles 26:10). When God’s original intention is restored, ”every man will sit under his own fig tree” (Micah 4:4) culminating in “the New Heavens and Earth” (Revelation 21:1).

The groups’ concern about enjoying relationships in a place targets the world they know—virtual and “technological.”  The necessity of “rootedness” continues to be necessary for us all, to have our place.  From Genesis to Revelation, it seems God intention is not for mobility but for the consistent universal cry for a place to call our own.

Mark Eckel still maintains long distance relationships over Facebook but continues to see his friends in real time and space in Indianapolis or wherever his friends reside.

[1] A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. Translated from the French by Mary Ryan.  Forward by James V. Schall.  Reprint, Catholic University of America Press, 1998.

[2] “Career-driven moves fray families’ sense of place,” Indianapolis Star 30 Oct 05.

[3] Michael Pollan, A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder. Random House, 1997.

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