November 11, 2009
I love to browse in good used bookstores. They are open invitations to hunt for treasure. Several years ago, during a time of displacement in my life, I discovered a book by the Swiss Christian psychiatrist Paul Tournier, an author I had read and enjoyed very much. He called this particular study A Place for You, an exploration of our human struggle with place, an issue that is deeper and more spiritual than we might think. I opened the book to find this lead paragraph:
The words were those of a young student with whom I had formed a deep friendship. He was sitting by my fireside, telling me of his difficulties, of the anxiety that never left him, and which at times turned to panic and to flight. He was trying to look objectively at what was going on inside himself and to understand it. Then, as if summing up his thoughts, he looked up at me and said, “Basically, I’m always looking for a place -- for somewhere to be.” (Paul Tournier, A Place for You, 1968)
So much of our human search could be summed up in this idea, that we are “looking for a place -- for somewhere to be.” Maybe if we took time to reflect on our own lives, we would see how much our unsettledness, our moving about, our search for an ideal house, or workplace was, in essence, the search for ourselves. Perhaps we externalize into localities what is, in fact, the process of spiritual discovery. The story of our lives is told through the places we have been, and the place we live in now.
This Sunday we move forward in our study of Jeremiah and the city by facing this profound (but often unreflected-upon) issue of place. We are now at the point where Jeremiah shifts his language from prophetic warning to pastoral comfort. For now Jeremiah’s audience is in a different place: they are exiles, people who pine for another place, people who live in a foreign city. And there was no getting around the fact that they were where they were. So… how would they live there? What new way of being did they need to embrace in that place? How would this adjustment change their experience of life and God? Just how should they think about their life in the city?
Having just returned from a week with the Benedictines, I am reminded of one of the core vows of that community, the vow of stability. Benedictines say, in effect, be where you are and bless the place. There is a way to do that.
See you this Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11 -- the coffee will be on.