The Power of Place

Oct 20, 2021

Where are your go-to places?

The...

...shop for a perfect gift?

...boutique for a breath-taking outfit?

...stop-off for a steaming latte?

...market for marvelous fresh produce?

...I-need-something-fast drive-through?

...conversation-friendly cafe for lunch with cherished friends?

One of the hardest factors in relocating is finding new places. It’s not just securing a new residence; it’s trying new restaurants, shops, salons, churches, grocery stores, parks, theaters, and more which combine to give us a sense of being “home.”

Place is such a plain word. It doesn’t capture attention, inspire fervor, or kindle affection. It’s as exciting as laundry detergent. Yet its blandness belies its power.

It is in our places we find our belonging.

I compose this post in a hotel room waiting for the opening event of a conference. I work, sleep, and read in this room, but I don’t “belong” here. Even a new dining spot, clothing store, or walking trail – no matter how enjoyed – won’t make it my “place.”

During the Covid shutdowns, many people realized how valuable or unnecessary their places were. Loyal customers loved dining establishments who found creative ways to continue to serve them. Fans grieved not being able to attend games, concerts, or events. Watching, listening, or chatting online just wasn’t the same as being in person. The opposite happened, too. Businesses found it wasn’t necessary and was perhaps even preferable for employees to not come to a particular place to conduct their work. Parents learned school was about growing in skill and knowledge, not showing up at a particular site. Residents discovered their homes needed transforming to create places for people to work, decompress, play, and gather. The outdoors was rediscovered. People accustomed to traveling long distances for vacations found nearby locales to explore and appreciate. Backyards and front porches became more than appendages; they became vital organs.

Places permeate us as much as we inhabit them.

It is our gathering sites which shape, express, comfort, sustain, challenge, and nourish us. It is a worn chair waiting with open arms for us in the corner of a room to arrive with a book to hug. A settled sidewalk where we stroll with a friend, finding and giving support. It is a trail, steadying us with its familiarity yet surprising us with something new. It’s an office, dining table, room, salon, church, kitchen counter, beach, forest, campsite, auditorium, bench, or piano stool.

Life is lived in places.

There’s a reason we refer to refugees as “displaced” persons. Grieving the loss of a place because it closes, or we relocate isn’t silly. Growing up, our family’s place twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday was the second row from the front on the left side facing the piano and the pulpit. To have sat anywhere else would have been unsettling. I wouldn’t have been able to follow along in the hymnal or listen to the sermon. Years later my sons clamored for the “front seat” in the van as if they’d arrive any earlier. I didn’t have the naivete this seat was prized because it was next to me; it separated them from their siblings. As grown-ups we tend to smile at children making so much of a small matter. Yet in truth we do the same. We make any number of choices – housing, shopping, dining, working, schooling – to set ourselves apart.

We’re wired for place.

In the beginning God gave Adam a place. He didn’t say, “Adam, there’s a giant world out there. Go forth and explore.” No, Adam was given a place. A garden, in fact. Along with instructions on how to tend it. Adam and Eve didn’t just lose their perfection with sin; they lost their place. And as their offspring, we’ve been searching for it ever since.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus comforted his team, (aka the disciples) with these words, “I go to prepare a place for you.” The hope of heaven isn’t harps and clouds and eat-all-you-can-no-calorie-buffets. It’s that we will have an absolutely perfect, imperishable, permanent place. Our heart’s yearning – foreshadowed here by our love of place – will be satiated beyond what we can dare to dream.

What place has your heart?