The Gift of Place

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

These [Genesis 1-2] are grounding texts for forming us and leading us into living well, playing well, to the glory of God in the great gift of creation. Genesis 1 is formational for receiving and living in to the creation gift of time; Genesis 2 for the creation gift of place (65).

The place is defined as a garden. It is not a limitless “everywhere” or “anywhere”; it is local: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen. 2:8).

Everything that the Creator God does in forming us humans is done in place. It follows from this that since we are his creatures and can hardly escape the conditions of our making, for us everything that has to do with God is also in place. All living is local: this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, this people.

This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t need saying. But I have spent an adult lifetime with the assigned task of guiding men and women in living out the Christian faith in the place where they raise their children and work for a living, go fishing and play gold, go to bed and eat their meals, and I know that cultivating a sense of place as the exclusive and irreplaceable setting for following Jesus is mighty difficult (72-73).

What we often consider to be concerns of the spiritual life – ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs – are never in the Christian gospel permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places. Biblical spirituality/religion has a low tolerance for “great ideas” or “sublime truths” or “inspiration thoughts” apart from the people and places in which they occur. God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common lives. God works with us as we are and not as we should be to think we should be. God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be.

People who want God as an escape from reality and the often hard conditions of this life don’t find much to their liking in this aspect of our Scriptures, our text for living. But there it is. There is no getting around it.

But to the man and woman wanting more reality, not less, this insistence that all genuine life, life that is embraced in God’s work of salvation, is grounded, placed, is good news indeed.

“Eden, in the east” is the first place named in the Bible. It comes with the unqualified affirmation that place is good, essential, and foundational for providing the only possible creation conditions for living out our human existence truly.

A. Orendorff

What seems “so obvious” is in fact “mighty difficult.” Part of our difficulty with place – the mundane grounding our lives, loves and theology – arises from the grandiosity of Scripture itself. When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17), we choke to think what this could possibly mean for our lives as commuters and stay at home moms. As participants in and agents of God’s coming future – the (re)creation and resurrection of all things – unspiritual normalities like mortgages, term papers, dirty diapers, wallpaper, pouring concrete and waiting in line seem out of place. What has resurrection to do with rental cars?

For Paul, however, the staggering reality that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19) leads immediately to the ultra-mundane injunction, “Therefore, do not pay people for sex.” What have temples to do with prostitutes? Everything. The spiritual and the natural are not mutually exclusive, they are coterminous – parts one of another. All geography is sacred, from kitchens to brothels to waterfalls. As Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote in 1918:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.