A Place to Call Home
The cold sidewalk barely gives way before the resounding thud of polished black shoes that plough a course through yet another mile of city streets where they have no place to rest. Overhead the blue skies melt into dark grey clouds and little splashes of colour where the sunset has begun to announce its arrival. Closer by, the crusty brown arms of sleeping trees wave cheerlessly over the empty sidewalk where they have learned to endure the neverending commotion of traffic beside their home.
Inside the glass buildings, inside their glass cars, and inside their glass homes, the people that once walked these streets hide their glass hearts from the raw and real presence of whatever nature still surrounds them. Even I hide within layers of warm clothes and shield my feet from the dirt with shoes that I wish did not already bear such prominent marks of their past adventures. I do not walk through the grass, I walk above the earth on a pavement made of stone and touch nothing but the unconditioned air that greets my face with a combination of clear pine, sparkling snow, and exhaust fumes.
Once again I roam the streets of an unfamiliar country wondering what it will take to break through the sterile silence of the isolated human crowd. After eight months of transient stays with friends, family, and temporary residences across the United States and Australia, I feel a growing desire for a place to call home. I want a piece of the earth that is mine to care for, to change, to rest on, to draw people to.
I know that the value of a home comes from the love of those who are in it, and I have found the joy that comes from this in places all around the world. However, as I think with anticipation on this future happiness, I begin to wonder if something is missing from the glass world that most of us inhabit, in near perfect isolation from nature.
Why did God make a promise to Abraham that he would someday settle down in a certain place (Genesis 13:14-16)? What was so important about location that the children of Jacob needed a piece of ground and not just a national identity? The wisdom literature is full of promises that the righteous man will dwell in the land and the one who pleases God will not be moved (e.g. Psalm 37:27, 29). The winds and the waters travel throughout the world bringing life wherever they go, but the blessed man who walks in the way of God is established like a tree beside the stream of water (Psalm 1).
Even God Himself honoured the request of David and of Solomon to make His home in the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 7:46-50). There would be a place dedicated to meeting with God to which people would come: a place that was set apart to one purpose—a holy place. This concept expanded in the New Testament to recognise that God would dwell with man, not next door in a house, but within his very body (1 Corinthians 6:19). Our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, and are being made into holy places set apart for meeting with God.
God once dwelt with man in a specific location, and now that location is within each one of us. We carry His presence with us wherever we go. While this is important to consider in the context of our relationships to people, I think it is also important to consider in our relationship to nature.
There is something extraordinary about the intersection of earth and heaven within humanity. As God is our father, it could be suggested that the earth is our mother (Genesis 2:7). Made of the dust of the ground and filled with the breath of God, humankind was given the responsibility of stewardship for the ground from which he was taken.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Psalm 24:1), but man was given a specific place in it (a garden within Eden), which he was blessed to cultivate and work with. From this garden Adam was to spread his dominion to cover the whole earth with order and with beauty as he aligned all things to the will of God for the earth. Sadly, he was cast out of the place that was given to him and into the earth. From then on, he began to struggle with nature for his very survival (Genesis 3:19). Perhaps this struggle is part of the reason that our incredible isolation from the earth feels like a luxury rather than like a problem.
Nevertheless, the first imperative remains “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). When the human race tried to settle together at the tower of Babel and create a name for themselves, God confused their language to incentivise them toward spreading out across the face of the world (Genesis 11:4,9). The idea of home included more than just people and accomplishments – it required some kind of investment in the ground. There is an aspect in which nature needs humanity to bring to it the presence of God that dwells within us. On the other hand, human violence seems to have a profound effect on the earth (Genesis 6:13—perhaps the subject for a future essay).
Whether we choose to recognise it or not, our lives, relationships, and walks with God have an impact on the world around us—not just on other people, but on the earth as well. Nature waits for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-22). In fact it groans under subjection because mankind is supposed to be the liberator, to be the representative of God that provides it with structure, function, and meaning as the Word of God did in creation.
As I begin to cultivate a place in Colorado that I will think of as home, it is right that I should consider the implications of being a son of God in terms of developing relationships both with humanity and with nature. Rather than thinking of a home as the place where nature provides a sense of stability (or even as a place of isolation and shelter from nature), I have begun to think of my home as a place where I take responsibility for the people, the society, and the natural world within my sphere of influence. I want to take ownership and responsibility for cultivating a piece of nature, a place of presence in which the influence of God can flow through my life—creating spiritual, and perhaps even physical, impact on the surrounding environment.