Dear Members and Friends,
If you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t know who you are.
-Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”
We won’t save a place we don’t love; we won’t love a place we don’t know; and we can’t know a place we haven’t learned
-Baba Dioum, Senegalese environmentalist, 1968
Earth Day was last Sunday. This Sunday we will be blessing our pets. It is vitally important that we remember how connected we are to the wider creation. Yet the way we live our lives, much of the time, make it increasingly easy to forget this truth and lose our sense of connection and our sense of place.
The average U.S. adult devotes approximately ten hours a day to consuming media, spends 87 percent of their time indoors and passes another six percent of their time inside a vehicle. That leaves just 7 percent of our time spent outdoors in a way that might begin to reconnect us with the created world around us! It is a modern spiritual challenge to be truly present in our unique places. It takes intentional effort to connect with our local human and ecological community.
This is important because God created all the earth and everything in it. That is a core understanding of the biblical faith which both Jews and Christians hold important. And God’s creation teems with God’s life-sustaining presence. We do not believe that God created the world and then retired to a distant heavenly abode, leaving it to us to muddle through down here on our own. Just as all plants and creatures depend on ecosystems, we as human beings depend on a community of human and non-human life for our survival and our identity. We create meaning and feel belonging based on our surroundings.
Perhaps part of our struggle as human beings to take climate change seriously and to even debate the possibility of engaging in industrial practices and human practices that cause harm and damage to the earth around us is our disconnection from the natural world which has come from the evolution of our lives in such a way that we no longer “live” directly in the outside world. Perhaps we have so insulated ourselves from the creation – with our air-conditioned environments with highly regulated temperature, protected from the rain and wind and storms; our lights which allow us to control our waking and sleeping hours beyond the movement of the sun; our protections from the bugs, wild beasts, and other creatures with which we share this planet – so that we have lost the sense of ourselves as integral parts of that natural world and our sense of place.
As Baba Dioum says, if we don’t know a place, we won’t love a place and we won’t save that place. “Sense of place” is hard to define, yet we know what it is if we pause to reflect. It is the place of our roots; it is our hometown; it is where we grew up; it is mi tierra; it is our homeland. It begins as our primal landscape which develops as a first impression of a sense of place in our childhood. The primal landscape is a child’s perception of the surrounding community. It becomes part of a lifelong self-identity. Adults that move away from their childhood home region often experience longing for their primal landscape – be it mountains, desert, forests, or vast meadows. Our primal landscape endures into adulthood as a source of spiritual nourishment, nostalgia and comfort.
For Dianne and I this longing is tied to water. Dianne grew up in Brooklyn, NY, with a view of the Hudson/East Rivers flowing under the Staten Island bridge and spending every summer on Breezy Point beach on Long Island. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri at the confluence of the mighty Missouri and Mississippi rivers. As we thought of our ultimate retirement location Savannah, Georgia became a natural fit – sitting on the Savannah River and the South Carolina/Georgia Low Country marshlands and an easy 20 minute drive to Tybee Island beach on the Atlantic Ocean. We both love the mountains, and deserts hold a powerful attraction for me, but mighty waters, rivers and oceans, are truly primal and core to our identities. When we connect directly with these landscapes they evoke nostalgic images and bring comfort and spiritual nourishment to our souls.
I invite you to spend some time reconnecting not only with your pets as you bring them to worship with you for a blessing, but also with your primal landscape. Take some reflection time to list elements that make up the place you most associate with “home.” Include the built environment, culture, bodies of water, flora or fauna. How do you fit into this home-place, and how does it influence your spirituality?
See you in church.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida