The Mystery of Place

 

 

Feeling “out of place” is a strong feature of our modern existence. Comments on my recent post bear this out. The notion and experience of place, though, have a mystery at their very heart. A major aspect of the mystery is that we can never know or experience anything in general – only in particular. We can speak of “human nature,” but it does not exist as a thing-in-itself. Human nature is only revealed in the uniqueness of a human person. Modernity’s genius (from a manufacturing and marketing perspective) was the creation of “mass production.” The cottage industries of England (and they were literally work done in individual cottages) were replaced by mills. What one weaver could do in a day a mechanized loom could do in minutes. Of course, there was a downside. This is aptly captured in William Blake’s poetic description of “dark, Satanic mills” in the poem, “Jerusalem.”

The longing for place is extremely ancient. We have no idea of the complete function of Stonehenge, for example. However, we know that it “knew” its place in relation to the solstice, as did many other prehistoric sites. We have no written words from that prehistoric time, but the monument itself says, “I know where I am.”

Most modern people have never seen the stars apart from a polluted sky (mostly “light” pollution). My first such encounter was in an isolated, desert monastery. The sight was almost frightening – but it was clear that if I lived in such a world – the night sky would mean far more to me than it does now. You could not help but notice it and mark your position.

Many natural aspects of our culture have been obscured by other forms of “pollution,” with the unintended effect of removing us from a sense of place. When Henry Ford developed mass production for his automobiles, the guiding principle was that of efficiency in the service of profit. Many note that he instituted the 8-hour day and paid his workers more than anyone else. Of course, the work was mind-numbing as human beings became part of a mechanized, repetitive production line. How much is the soul of a human being worth?

Modernity has made a devil’s bargain with productivity, efficiency, and wealth. Living in the wealthiest time in human history we remain plagued by seemingly intractable human problems, most of which seem impervious to applications of money. We are asking all the wrong questions and tolerating an endless stream of wrong answers.

A difficulty for all of us is that the questions and answers are culture-wide. We cannot suddenly opt-out of an economic system geared towards de-humanization. Rather, we have to “humanize” in a context we might wish to be different. Christ did not change the world in order to enter it. Neither did He enter the world in order to change it. Christ Himself is the change and His coming is itself the new world.

We are incarnate beings. When we speak of matters of the heart, we are not describing some aspect of a disembodied existence. The heart within us still has place and time, just as it has relationship. The primary means God has established for our spiritual feeding is found in an act of eating and drinking. Nevertheless, though the physical never disappears in importance, it does not necessarily rule the spiritual. Every Liturgy, regardless of where it takes place, is the same Liturgy. Every place in which it occurs becomes Jerusalem, just as Jerusalem, in the death and resurrection of Christ, was every place in the world. Christ died for all and so all were/are in Him.

Much of this points towards “how” we are where we are. People have “moved” for all of our existence. Indeed, moving is not the real problem. It is quite possible to live one’s entire life in a single place and yet have a sense of “not being at home.” Conversely, I have met some few people who seemed to be “at home” everywhere they were. It is a matter of the heart (particularly in how the heart relates to the world).

In my previous article, following Dionysius, I noted the importance of desire (eros) and love. The hierarchies that give right shape to the universe function primarily in these modes. The “higher” loves the “lower,” that is, it extends itself in love towards the well-being of the other. The “lower” desires the “higher” in that it is drawn towards the goodness and beauty that it sees manifested. These are not coercive structures. Rather, they are hierarchies of true freedom.

What we do not see, I think, is that modernity has its own hierarchies. All of us are certainly victims of eros, of desire, but it is a disordered desire, formed and shamed in the furnace of the passions whose fires are stoked by the masters of deception (the purveyors of mammon). The result is a “bonfire of the vanities,” a world whose structures feed the flames of a global economy, devouring everything in its path.

The Church instructs us in the warfare of resistance – with regard to the passions. At the same time, through the commandments of Christ, we slowly learn the art of living in the true hiearchy of God’s creation. Attending to beauty, to goodness, taking the time to acknowledge them and to allow them to enter the soul, are a form of theoria, the contemplation that is essential to the life of prayer.

I was out-of-town recently for a family wedding. It would have been easy to be caught up in the whirlwind of the services, of the receptions, even the “noise” of it all. Coming down the elevator one morning in the hotel, I made a short, pleasant conversation with one of the cleaning staff. She brightened and mentioned her name. Somehow, I managed to pay attention. For the rest of the weekend, when I saw her, I called her by name, and we engaged in conversation. In a small way, it was transformative. Such staff members are easily ignored, as though they were part of the furniture. I was moved by the fact that she gave me her name and took it as an invitation to pay attention. A hotel took on an aspect of home.

We do not have to invent the hierarchies of God’s universe. They abide and are as ever-present as the forces of nature. We do not recognize their presence most of the time, but it is such things that preserve the world in peace and sustain it in the face of our unintentioned madness. We do well to remember that “place” is never a general thing – it is always specific, particular, and immediately at hand. To find our place, we have to ourselves be specific, particularly and immediately at hand. We do the “next good thing,” and love the neighbor – that is – the person who is next to you.

We do not understand that the hierarchies which God has established are hard-wired into our existence. They are quite natural. That said, we must also understand that human beings have to be abused and debased in order to set in place an alternative hierarchy or to establish chaos in its place. That this is true is sufficient comment on the state of our culture.

Save us, help us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.

 

 

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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38 responses to “The Mystery of Place”

  1. Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennick Avatar
    Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennick

    I always look at the name tags of people helping me at the market, restaurant, or where ever I am and address that person by their name. I see it as a sign of respect and acknowledgement that they are an important part of my day. It is amazing what a difference it makes to us both.

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, as you rightly point out our “culture” is one of passions. Each one of us has one or more that tend to tempt us away from Christ, even though He resides within us. So our sense of who, where and why we are.
    I have found, I think, that rather than trying to resist the passion by praying for myself, whoever I am, I am easier extracted if I pray for the other victims and human purveyors of the particular passion. Asking our Lord to have mercy on all of us, Each particular one of us. Repenting myself at the same time.

    In the short run it seems, at least, to make me less judgemental and more forgiving.

    Does that sound right to you?

  3. David Anthony Avatar
    David Anthony

    These writings about “place” bring a few thoughts to mind…for instance, Anthony the Great’s advice about not being quick to leave a place. Or a note in the Orthodox Study Bible from a reading of a few days ago: “Our God-given role in life if the place of our salvation.” Or Revelation 20:11 – “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.”

    The last thought is chilling. If I’m understanding it correctly, the time will come when there will be no place but the Kingdom of God, and if a soul is unfit for the Kingdom, it will essentially be “placeless.” What does that mean? I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good.

    I find the concept of “home town” very meaningful. Even though these days I live near a different city, I will always root for my “home town.” One thing my wife and I wanted to provide to our children was a place about which they could truly say, “I grew up there.”

    My home town is Buffalo, New York, a place that climbed high and then crashed back to earth. Its history is seasoned with loss. It is a city – a region, really – that, largely because of geography, has been poisoned and polluted, exploited and then abandoned. I believe you live in a similar region that was poisoned by a similar thing (the pursuit of nuclear weaponry). Despite all that, life has continued there and what I frequently hear these days, usually during football season, is that Western New Yorkers are noted as some of the friendliest and most generous people you can find. Of course there are exceptions (lots of them), and really, aren’t people the same everywhere? How can these people be more generous than those? So I take it with a grain of salt, all the while wondering if perhaps a shared sense of adversity does something good to the soul, if the adversity doesn’t destroy a person first. Or perhaps I’m ignorant.

    Or maybe this has nothing to do with what you’ve been writing…!

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I was received into the Church in 1986, the year my son was born. I am 36 years later becoming Orthodox sort of.
    My wife’s nephew is a professional rodeo star. One of the best in the world in his event, team roping. He and his wife also run a ranch in Oklahoma. I think the bull riders offer a decent paradigm to the Orthodox spiritual life. They get on big bulls every season hoping to stay on for 8 seconds and look good doing it. Most of the time even the great ones fail a lot and suffer a lot of pain in the process. BUT, they still get on those bulls night after night (in mind if they are too injured to do it fact) and try to ride. Correcting anything they might have done wrong on the bull before but always thanking God, family and friends for the opportunity to do so.
    Last night Merry’s nephew and his partner got an horrendous time on their run — no time at all they completely missed. Tonight they got the best time at 3.5 seconds. Their run last night cost them money. Tonight they earned about $30000. Less the expenses of travel and lodging for themselves and their horses which sponsors help with a little but only if they are good

    Also in the world of professional rodeo there is no gender confusion. The women are honored for what they can do for their feminity and their skill and toughness just as the men are honored for their toughness, masculinity and skill. That includes the different functions they each preform in raising cattle on the ranches training horses that many, like my newphew-in-law own and run.. Plus his wife is a pharmacist too and they have two little girls 5 and 3 to love and nurture.
    God is good and may ya’ll each ride your bull tonight. By the Grace and Mercy of God

  5. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    I’ve lived and worked on three continents: my approach to “feeling at home” involves working out where local boundaries are, and respecting them. Usually this takes a couple of years. Then the connections tend to take care of themselves.

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have begun to feel “at home” where I am planted with Jesus tending me no matter where I am. A recent change because I have always been quite anxious somewhere new. But Jesus is leading me into a deeper more nourishing soil through His Grace and Mercy. When I need it my dog jumps up next to me and looks at me with such love, devotion, joy and trust … How can I do less toward Jesus, my Lord and Master?
    Love always has appropriate but challenging barriers.

  7. Mark Avatar
    Mark

    Thank you again Father. I’ve come to be a bit reliant, maybe dependent on your posts and it’s contents. For me, it all supports repentance, “changing the mind”, the heart, the perspective, the world view, to the true ( maybe ancient) “way” of thinking, being, interacting. That is so contrary to our ( my) western and modern mindset and programming, for lack of a better word. Undoing this is a challenge, and I’m praying His grace and mercy are greater than my meager efforts, but your posts help a lot. Grateful and keep it coming.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark, what you hope is actually real but we have to stick with it and help each other. I have been following Jesus in on way or another since 1968 seriously since 1986 when I was received into the Church. Each year (all 54 years) I have been faced with some spiritual challenge, never more than I could handle by the Grace of God but real challenges. This year it seems to be actual repentance as you describe in your post and more. Take it as it comes. Jesus is always with you. Give thanks and laugh at yourself as much as you can, not derisive laughter but joyful laughter full of joyful self-recognition.
    Learning mercy has been a slow but continuous melting of my heart learning to give as I receive. I do not deserve any any of it. The philosophy of the world is taking what your shame tells you deserve while demanding even more from others. I know
    God gives grace inspite of what I deserve.
    Pray for me Mark and may His Mercy abound in your heart.

  9. Sinnika Avatar
    Sinnika

    Fr Stephen,
    How very fitting, the image of the “poor” beggar dressed in rags, humbling himself to a child.
    “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, what freedom to own nothing and to have everything!
    He looks like an Elder, a true image of Christ, thank you for this beautiful picture,

  10. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    When you started writing on shame, it touched a nerve. You could tell by the way everyone came out of the woodwork and resonated loudly with a cacophony of noise. I want to suggest that this phenomenon has happened again with the idea of place. The topic is strongly connected with the current silent epidemics of loneliness, depression, apathy and others.

    As I read this article, to me practically every paragraph was simply a teaser for another sub-topic you could pursue in a future post. I believe the loss of place is something that greatly affects the lot of us in a very negative way and yet for the average person is extremely difficult to put into words. Therefore I want to encourage you to share whatever else the Lord gives you concerning this.

    By the way, I was presenting the Place idea to a friend of mine yesterday and he started to disagree, citing the many nomadic people who have and still do exist. How would I explain them since they don’t seem to have a place? But even as he started laying out his argument, he realized that this wasn’t true. They simply took their place along for the ride. The only difference was that their Cheers crowd travelled with them instead of being tied to a brick-and-mortar structure. So the basic idea still holds. Whether it’s extended families, nomadic tribes, or teams of co-workers who migrate to the next task together, their sense of place stays intact and they themselves are much more intact because of it.

    As the Lord gives you, please continue to minister to us, drewster

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you, Drewster. I’ve noticed what you describe and I’ll continue to follow it up. This present article is itself something of an answer to the nomadic question. It’s the nature of the heart. Modernity has a way of removing the sense of place even when you stay put…which is to say that staying put is not the simple answer that some might imagine. It is, first and foremost, a healing of the heart – which is also manifest in how you are where you are.

    An interesting phenomenon for me has been in traveling the nation and some of the world, and worshipping in Churches wherever I go. I remember in 2008, in Israel, I was concelebrating in a Vigil service at the Russian monastery in Ein Karem. We got there late, but the nuns had laid out vestments for us. The service was entirely in Slavonic. But, the three or four American priests that I was with assumed our places around the altar (which is the same in Russian practice everywhere – including in the OCA) and started taking our parts in the service (which we did in English). The service was flawless. It was amazing to have just dropped in on strangers in a place I’d never been, but to know precisely what my place and role were – despite the language difference. I was amazed.

    I’ve had similar experiences elsewhere. I am in my “place” whenever and wherever I’m in Church.

  12. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    “Modernity has a way of removing the sense of place even when you stay put…which is to say that staying put is not the simple answer that some might imagine. It is, first and foremost, a healing of the heart – which is also manifest in how you are where you are.”
    Thank you for these words and your response to Drewster. Also thank you for your continued blog posts about these topics, Fr. Stephen, they continue to be a balm to my heart.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have a young Orthodox male friend with a family. He has itchy feet wanting to find the “perfect parish”. If he or his ideas are challenged in the parish setting or he thinks they are, he is ready to take off again. I had not seen him in awhile after liturgy but Sunday I noticed he looked very stressed. My wife and I were able to talk with his lovely wife in coffee hour. She gave a brief outline to us.
    Yesterday, I talked to him on the phone telling him the truth, I missed him and he seemed quite stressed. We also got into his itchy feet. He said that as a convert he felt he eas not welcome since he home schooled. Well, my late wife snd I were that way in the dame parish for 11 years over 20 years ago and found no problem on that score at all. Plus we have or own academy for kids do the idea of non-public education to keep kids from being indoctrinated against the faith is widely accepted even as ee have a few folks who work in public education.

    So, I pressed on flat out telling him I did not want to see him leave because I would miss him greatly offering to help him in any way I can. I have a few other folks like that for one reason or another. A few disappeared during the COVID mess and have not been back. Others just don’t come much any more. Some due to age difficulties. It is quite hard to get a hold of them.

    They apparently do not consider the parish and our worship together as central to their place as I thought they did. I understand my wife and I found ourselves slipping into that too. We are old, have infirmities and live 30 mintes away. Not always easy to make the trip when Saturday night sleep has been sparse due to pain and/or over active bladders. Still we made a recommitment to go because other people needed us there and missed us.

    So how much does interrelationship have in reducing shame and supporting one’s sense of place? I have one brother in Christ who will only come if I am there because I sm the only one he feels respects him.

    It seems you are going to go into that a bit from your reply to Drewster. I look forward to it because I am just beginning to realize how critical such things can be. I have to stop getting my wife to be my PR firm.
    Combination of fear, pride, laziness and a heart too hard in my case.

  14. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Since you mention Jerusalem, Father, I will describe a place that was home to me, however fleeting. I was there in Israel when I was 18 years old. I was allowed to do there for a “senior project” at the school I attended. And I went there with 3 other girls. We were not chaperoned initially, and it is amazing in hindsight how we managed to find our way to a kibbutz, where we worked for about 5 weeks. We were dependent on the good graces of caring strangers. Afterward, we went on a short tour of Jerusalem and walked around the periphery of the old temple area where now a mosque is built. At that time, the area around what was called the “wailing wall” was heavily built up, and there was no great plaza there. My group was consistently pointed in the direction of the wall as we walked through a suk, and we practically stumbled upon it when we turned a corner. When I first stepped into the view of the wall, my heart nearly stopped. The immensity of the stones overwhelmed me. I was looking at the stones of the wall around the temple of late antiquity. They, the stones, and I spoke to each other in prayer and in praise of God. I promised them that I would return to them in time. And I did.

  15. Lynda O Avatar
    Lynda O

    Thank you Father for yet another edifying article. I only discovered Orthodoxy earlier this year, after the last few years of disillusionment with Evangelical/Reformed Protestantism, the only Christianity I had known for most of my life. I have felt that “out of place” feeling for most of my life, some of it perhaps due to a dysfunctional family, a parent with (undiagnosed) mental illness and the passiveness of the other parent. Then difficulties in social settings throughout my life; recently realizing that especially in my young adult years I had what is now called “avoidant personality disorder.”

    One thing that has always held a special “place” in my heart, has been the writings of Tolkien (Lord of the Rings especially) since I discovered his books as a young Christian in my late 20s. Through that influence I came to understand the significance of story in our lives, and earlier this year, considering his biography, to look into Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course, Tolkien was strong Roman Catholic, and I could never accept such things as Papal Supremacy — but that special quality in Tolkien I found lacking in my Protestant Christian Experience, and I had a vague knowledge that there was something, Eastern Orthodoxy, that preceded Roman Catholicism. That search online led me into more and more understanding of Orthodoxy, and I feel a newness, a type of “second conversion” (as someone put it in the comments of a post at this blog a year ago).

    Due to my personal circumstance, with a hard-core Calvinistic Baptist husband, I must continue attending that type of church here locally, while learning and practicing the Orthodox faith in my daily Christian life. More and more I see the strong contrast between that highly intellectualized form of Christianity, and the wonder and fullness in Orthodoxy. Just as one example: through Orthodoxy, I appreciate even more the story of Christ’s Incarnation: the birth narratives, the people involved, plus all of the oral tradition behind the scenes that was never taught or known as a Protestant (about Mary’s upbringing and parents, or what happened to John the Baptist’s parents at the time of King Herod, for example).

    Then the great contrast seen at this local baptist church — their sermon texts for the Christmas holiday are Hebrews 1:1-2, Colossians 1:15, and John 1:14-18. Of course those are also great texts about the Incarnation — but in a much more abstract, intellectual way when taken alone, without reference also to the great story involved in the specifics. As you said above about human nature and place, these are not a general thing, but specific and particular. “We can speak of “human nature,” but it does not exist as a thing-in-itself. Human nature is only revealed in the uniqueness of a human person. ” And so it seems to me that by choosing these particular texts and only these, that these Calvinist Baptist pastors are dealing with the generals rather than the particulars of what Christmas is about, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Anyway, thank you again for another helpful article and this blog.

    Lynda

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Lynda,
    Thank you for your thoughts – well articulated! We do what we can in the circumstances God has given us – even when they’re not ideal. My own journey to Orthodoxy was slow and fitful. There were times that I just put it out of my mind, but it would return. It was a long and complicated journey, and much of the time I was far less than faithful. I think, in hindsight, that it was as much a journey to my heart.

    I once made a retreat at an Anglican monastery (in my early Episcopal-priest years). I met a woman who was a former Anglican nun but who had converted to Orthodoxy. She had just completed a 2-week silent retreat. I was curious about her life and her conversion and managed to spend an afternoon with her.

    I asked her questions…but, I think, that mostly I did the talking. When we finished she said this to me: “Fr. Stephen, you think a lot. Someday you’ll think with your heart. Then you’ll be Orthodox.”

    I never forgot the words – indeed, my “heart burned within me,” as she spoke them. And I felt some shame as well. But…some 15 years or so later, I saw her again, in a coffee hour at an Antiochian Church. My family and I were in our last stages of becoming Orthodox. I spoke to her, reminded her of her words, and told her about our plans… She didn’t remember me. I had to laugh.

    I think now that I would add to her words, this thought: “Someday, any day, perhaps today, you’ll think with your heart and you’ll discover what it means to be Orthodox.”

    May God reside richly in your heart and feed you each day. Remember me in your prayers from time to time. Thank you!

  17. Lynda O Avatar
    Lynda O

    Thank you Father, for sharing that! And prayers for you and your ministry.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, may we all think with our hearts purified by the Grace of repentance. Then we will also be human. Is that not one distinction between we humans and AI?

  19. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Michael,
    I know AI is a hot topic in some groups. When I was young, I had a curiosity about it. But the human condition does not encourage me to think we could create any such perfection as is often described among the groups who are aficionados of AI. The inculturation that we can make progress and improve society is a dominant characteristic of the Christian reformation. It seems the attraction of AI to it followers runs along a similar theme. The topic hasn’t piqued my interest for quite some time. It may be that the malaise arising from it and the hubris and greed that feeds it will lead to the fall of this culture. In this case, perhaps the only recourse is to look to God for His intervention if it is His will.

  20. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I’m starting to read “Mother of the Light”, translated by the Rev. Archimandrite Maximos Constas. Reading it seems to be building a fire in my heart. The introduction was a very edifying read as well. I’m struck by the words “joy-making sorrow” that he mentions near the end of the introduction. So much is revealed in these words. This is how he expresses it:

    “To be sure the works ascribed to St Ephraim had a decisive impact in shaping the conscience of the Church in its expression of “joy-making sorrow”, which is the chief characteristic of the Orthodox life in Christ.”

    He describes that the prayers to the Theotokos collected under the name of St Ephraim are some of the most profound and beautiful prayers of their kind.

    Reflecting on this introduction, these words and your article on the mystery of place bring me to these following thoughts about the Theotokos, just before she gave birth to Christ. Feeling the birth process beginning, and knowing that the only place to give birth would be in a stall for animals. I wonder in those moments whether her faith was trialed. She knew already the miracle of impregnation. But the contrast to the place where she would give birth must have been staggering. Yet I’m certain she was yielding in her heart, patiently accepting ‘her place’, perhaps not yet truly knowing what her place actually was.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    To be clear Dee, I think AI is an abomination-anti-human in every way. The ultimate example of the corruption of original sin. The way of the heart, transfigured by Christ is the only defense against. So I am learning to give thanks for even my many sins and the temptations they bring into my life and say, quietly, the Jesus Prayer. The more I repent, the more Joy I am given — and am still on the shore of the ocean that awaits.

    Intelligence is not the soul. The soul cannot be made except by God’s hands. My wife and I are trying to learn how to allow God to over come our increasing physical pain because of age related entropy to get to worship every Sunday God forgive us, we do not make it all the time. Even less for the other services. But God is bringing more people into my life for whom my presence is important, even necessary for them to feel at home there. Weird but true. Forgive me for my sardonic humor. It is frequently unclear to others but serms to come naturally to me. May God’s mercy and Grace empower and uphold you. My wife and I pray for you daily. I am always enlightened in some way when I read your posts.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    Rich material for meditation! BTW, I have the deepest regard for Fr. Maximos’ work on St. Maximus. Very solid and instructive. I’m glad that he’s teaching at Holy Cross.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father have you written on the temptation to a material explanation for everything as one pole vs the temptation, Gnostic-like of denying the corporeal and the reality of the Incarnation?

    Seems that toxic shame could have a place in either position.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    Examples of both certainly abound. But I’ve not, I think, focused on it before.

  25. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about place and how difficult it is to establish a “new place” after having left an “old place”. There is a ‘placeless-ness’ about the person–even if leaving the old place was for the best. Placeless-ness appears to be characterized by distrust, diminished capacity for making new friendships, a nagging sense of isolation, and a heaping-helping of toxic shame–at the surface the person becomes a placeless person. The idea of establishing new roots seems not only restrictive, but even dangerous. I think this may be true for any displacement a person experiences, but if the displacement was grievous, then placeless-ness would be more severe. Still thinking…

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, thank you for sharing your thoughts. There is much to reflect on in what you say. In my experience, it is quite easy to look to the world to give one a sense of place and foundation and being rooted. Wow. My brain’s a-poppin’ and my heart is too.

  27. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    How often I have heard some people expressing that they are not in a good place at the moment; referring to their internal situation. Even though our external place in the world has a large effect on us, depending on where we live and the circumstances we are experiencing, the inner aspect is often neglected. Even if I live in what may be by worldly standards, the best of places, I could still be in the worst of places internally.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew, et al
    It’s an interesting phrase (“not in a good place”), which, somehow doesn’t mean, “I’m not in a good mood.” Undoubtedly, “place” is both inward and outward. Being human is complex – inherently so – I think.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Being human is complex” Amen, and it seems that most of our attempts to “simplify” it tend to have drastic consequences. We seem to bring a set of complications with us.
    Lord have mercy and save us.

  30. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Psalm 18:19 has always meant a lot to me…”He brought me out into a spacious place….” I most feel the vastness of this “place” (only at times) while alone in prayer.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    John 10:9 “I am the door. By me if anyan enter in, he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture”

    Near where I live in Kansas is a large area named the Flint Hills. It is invigorating to go through. The ground is so flinty it cannot be farmed. It does grow grass particularly the Giant Bluestem. Great for pasturing and grazing cattle. It seems immense, without end and deeply peaceful.
    For me, it has long been a cognate for the inner quest. A bit like standing on the shore of an ocean looking out over the the expanse listening to the waves.

  32. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    I am always an outsider, but I love coming here from time to time to find rest. Thank you, Father Stephen and companions, for being in this place. What I have to give might not find root, but it is meant with love: in the first of these two articles, you give the example of the Cherubim hymn sung as the liturgy progresses. In our little church we often went to the Greek text and did our own translations. The word in Greek for what is translated as ‘represent’ we strengthened to employ its root, to “become icons”. Thusly: “Here, we become, in mystery, icons, icons, icons of the cherubim, icons of the cherubim.

    I know, it takes one back- how could we sing such? We don’t mean we are suddenly become saints. We mean only that we have a relationship to the cherubim that is a mystical one as we sing their very words “Holy, Holy, Holy” in a participatory way finding our place within the liturgy itself.

    I can only say that making this change, which is in the original Greek, was transformative in our small community of worshippers. It gave us a place to be, and I agree with you that it is a divine hierarchy of place.

    Thank you, Father Stephen and friends.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    juliana, thank you for speaking such truth so beautifully. My heart lept within.
    Now I need to contemplate the beautiful truth you shared so it can become more asxI am.
    No more even incipient iconoclasm for me, by His Grace.
    You are not outside.

  34. Eric Avatar
    Eric

    Re Modernity stripping us of a sense of place even when staying put – this for me resonates with our increasingly disembodied existences, which Modernity seems quite content to encourage. A form of dis incarnation being the most fundamental ‘un placing’

    Lord have mercy

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Eric,
    That there is a widespread social phenomenon (particularly among the young) of not feeling at home in the body – is among the most painful manifestations of modernities disembodied alienation. I pray it passes soon.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, what a tragic disconnect. Yet, it explains a lot concerning the “identity” movement. God forgive us.
    In away it makes me thankful for the pains in my body.

  37. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Modernity stripping us of a sense of place even when staying put – this for me resonates with our increasingly disembodied existences, which Modernity seems quite content to encourage.

    I have become increasingly aware of the divisions our modern society creates in labels. We are constantly divided and categorized according to social categories, sexual preferences, psychological profiles, economic status, physical appearances, and many, many other categories. All of which are divisive and, in the end I think, harmful. This endless categorization and compartmentalization seems to be the foundation(s) of Modernity’s assault upon our sense of place and being. I believe it is helpful to simply say we are human, created male and female, in the Image of God.

    I don’t mean to over-simplify (and it is possible I am doing so) but this thought brings a simpler focus and recognition that, as complex as “being human” is, we still function on the most basic level as created beings. I think our sense of place is strongly tied to Incarnation–God with us in Creation. I don’t know how to expand on this understanding though. And maybe that lack is a good thing? Just mulling things over and over in my heart….

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    https://frmosesberry.com/2022/12/10/memories-of-the-foot/

    The above link is to writings of a dear friend and brother in Christ. I have known him for 50 years. I have been a peripheral part of some of the struggles with identity which he chronicles. He has always shown me how important it is to be human, how difficult that can be but worth the struggles in Christ; with Christ.
    Jesus has lifted up the man. He is worth emulating as far as possible by the Grace of God. In humility and joy.

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