Displacedness and Home-making
This past weekend, my husband and I moved to a new house in St. Andrews. Seeing our lives boxed up and moved about made me think about my desire to be settled, to be at home, and to just stay somewhere. Feeling displaced from my native Georgia for the past three years has affected me more than I ever could have imagined. So while this current move came as a relief and much-needed change, it also came with the knowledge that it too is impermanent—next year when our time has run out here, we’ll pack up and move again.
The more displaced we become as a culture, the more we come to see the effects that a sense of homelessness, literal or metaphorical, can have on us emotionally and spiritually. My desire for home is not uncommon. In our global society where most people move every few years, the significance of home and the way that we make and identify with places has become an important issue. In such a culture, we should acknowledge the primary importance of home-making, that is the actions we take to “make a place” where we are. Doing this, we can be spiritually rejuvenated through that connection to place.
Being “at home” or “in place” is a primary issue in Christian scripture. The Israelites suffered with this same feeling of displacedness. Being exiled from their land and losing their primary place of worship, the Israelites had to reevaluate their relationship to God and to each other. Their method of being-at-home in the land was not what God had envisioned for them, and so he uprooted them in order that they may learn the actual significance of home and home-making (among other things).
But Jeremiah tells the Israelites while they are in exile: “build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce …multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jer. 29.5,6). What is interesting about this is that even though their exile is impermanent, they are stilled called to make a place there: building gardens and homes, starting families, making all the things necessary to properly dwell somewhere for a period of time.
Part of this place-making involves remembering. Psalm 137 calls the Israelites to sing songs of home while in a foreign land: “How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.” But it also involves building new memories: “digging in” and “becoming native” as Wes Jackson describes in his discussion on land and homecoming. 
So what are some of the ways that we can engage in this action of home-making, or place-making? Lots of things will obviously fall under this category, but I believe artistic actions—actions of physical making—are often a primary way that people do this. Whether it is building a house or garden shed, making curtains, or arranging flowers, creative and imaginative engagement with a space can help settle the spirit and fulfill a desire for settledness that may be missing.
When we moved this time, I made a new duvet cover for our bedroom. It’s simple, made from some corduroy fabric in a favorite color. And even though it doesn’t seem like it would change that much, it helps me feel at home in a foreign place. It helps me make the space into our place for a little while.
If we are going to combat our postmodern condition of placelessness, we need to heed the word of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah: we need to build, make, do something that connects us to the land and to the places around us. We need to understand the spiritual significance of our relationship to places and realize that something is missing when we are unsettled.
The arts may be one way of helping in this area. What are some of the ways you participate in home-making or making place?