Sunday, July 24, 2005

thoughts on place

As I prepare to move to Georgia for graduate studies in about a week, it seems that the universe is banging me over the head with the significance of place. At COCE I heard a paper about how Georgian author Janisse Ray’s work is uniquely grounded in the south – in the land and the culture. Kathi passed me a note during the presentation asking if the Midwest, like the south, had a narrative. And that got me thinking. How has spending the last 16 years in West Michigan formed me? What does it mean to live in this place, and to spend time away from it?

Matt posted recently about people in our generation having a sense of home that is much more based in relationships than in place, and to a certain extent I agree with him. I define myself first as a part of these relationships. Relationships that began in a specific place, but can (and in some cases already have) continue across distance. I still feel rather attached, though, to specific places. Many of them are important to me because of the events that happened there, but also because of the familiarity. I know the best beaches, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and some of the quirky history in Holland.

In the seminar on Friday one of the participants asked “how do we exegete a place?” And that discussion reminded me that our places - the land, the city, the weather, the predominant culture - all do still influence who we are, how we think, and even the way we relate to God. I’m not sure what this will mean when I really move AWAY for the first time. I know it means I will grow up and change some. I think it means, too, that I’ll bring some of that as-yet-undefined West Michigan sensibility to a new place and a new community. I imagine my life sometimes like a post-modern novel, where the not-clearly-related experiences of my life are placed unexpectedly next to each other and forced into conversation. I’m excited to hear what they say.

1 comment:

Karen DeVries said...

Bethany,
Have you ever read novels by Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, etc.)? In a series of books, he chronicles interconnected lives one at a time through the last century in the fictional farming town of Port William, Kentucky. Each person is informed to the core by a sense of place and community. Berry mourns the loss of this devotion to serving people simply because you've been placed next to them.
Try them!