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Displacedness and Home-making

May 4, 2011

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. [1]

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?


Photo credit: http://www.facebook.com/Goannatree. Used with permission

[1] Wes Jackson, Becoming Native to This Place (Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996).

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Cole Matson permalink
    May 4, 2011 2:54 pm

    I create a little oratory in my room, so that no matter where I am, I have a physical sanctuary to which I can retire to pray. Even if I’m in a hotel room, though it’s not ideal, having my breviary and maybe a little cross by the bed creates that space.

    • Jenn Craft permalink*
      May 11, 2011 11:54 am

      Cole,

      Your reflection reminds me of pilgrims that carry items of spiritual significance with them on their journeys. Though they are traveling, they are still all the while connected with God and see him in the places they encounter. Even though they aren’t necessarily spending a long time there, their actions in the place, their forms of placemaking as it were, hold spiritual significance and serve to solidify or concretize their relationship to it.

  2. May 4, 2011 8:40 pm

    Carrie Reinhardt pointed me in the direction of this post… I really like what you have to say about placemaking/homemaking. I also appreciated your theological references. I just finished writing my thesis on arts-based placemaking in abandoned spaces. I am also interested in the ways people use art to make places home. One thing that I did in my home was to make the first room in our house (upon entry) reflect values and the identities of myself and my husband. So, I created a mural that tells the story of creation and our innate connection to acts of creation. Also this room is the art/music room…so there are drums, guitars, a piano, and gobs of art materials available. It’s a great reminder to us…each time we enter our home…of what is important and what we hold dear. It sets a great tone for our home 🙂

    • Jenn Craft permalink*
      May 11, 2011 11:38 am

      Amy, I’d love to hear more about your research! It seems like its very connected to what I’m doing right now–I’m working on several artist’s “case studies” to show in a concrete way what I mean by artistic/imaginative placemaking and its theological implications.

      Your mural sounds great! I used to paint murals as a side job, so I just love a big painted wall! 🙂 It’s amazing how something like that can make you feel connected to a place, especially if its your own home. Thanks for sharing!

  3. May 4, 2011 8:56 pm

    I’ve lived in two houses since I moved out of my parents’ house, both far from what I originally called “home.” In both places, I’ve planted a garden and even put in perennials, knowing that they would be enjoyed by people who would come after me. Doing that has helped me come to terms with the local climate and weather patterns, which I would have only grumbled about otherwise. It’s also become a conversation piece with my new neighbors. Since anybody who lives in a house has some contact with plants (even if it’s just grass), it’s been a natural way to meet and get to know other people living nearby.

    I also like to build things into the existing structure, such that I can walk through the house and see marks of my own presence. (My children also leave marks of their own presence, though those are usually less orderly than mine.) Even little repairs, say the replacement of a bathroom faucet or the installation of a light fixture, makes a new house a little less strange.

    The trade-off is what happens when it comes time to leave the place we have learned to call “home.” Granted, it looks much less like home when all our things are packed up and the furniture is moved out. But it’s still hard to leave a garden in which there are still vegetables growing, which I will not be able to tend or eat. The deeper you put down roots, the more painful it is to uproot and transplant.

    • Jenn Craft permalink*
      May 11, 2011 11:51 am

      Steve, thanks for sharing! I totally agree with your last point. Time spent in a place makes you more connected to it, which I suppose is part of the reason for modern “placelessness” –everyone tends to move around every couple years. I’m reminded of a point made by Wallace Stegner that there are two types of people, “boomers” and “stickers.” The former can’t stay in one place for too long while the latter stays and put down roots. I’m not sure we can totally negate the need for the former but we do run into a problem when no one sticks around. If people don’t “stick” or “become native” to a place, we all suffer for it. The cultivation of place requires love, time, fidelity, hard work, creativity, and imagination. And all this, I want to argue, is connected at its core to our view of God’s Creation. Wendell Berry says that what we do with places reflects our view of God, and I think he’s right. We need more “stickers” in the world to show us what it means to carry out our call to cultivate, to “till and keep,” all the parts of Creation.

      Also, I like what you say about your work in the place connecting you with the community. Theologically, I think we can sort out a kind of three-way relationship between people, place, and God; and this is shown over and over again in scripture. So when we live in a place, putting down roots there mean putting down roots in a community of people. And the work that we do connects us deeper within it.

      Thanks again for your thoughts and thanks for reading!
      Jenn

      • Cole Matson permalink
        May 11, 2011 10:55 pm

        Jenn,

        Have you looked at all at Benedictine monasticism, especially the vow of stability? Most people think of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but Benedictine monks actually take vows of obedience, conversion of life, and stability, pledging to stay in the same place (both physical place and human community) for the rest of their lives. (They can be sent to another place to start up a new foundation under the aegis of their home monastery, or to join a linked community, but that’s an exception – and the bonds of community and links to the original place are still there.) The connection to place is a fundamental part of Benedictine spirituality – and led to the cultivation, agricultural, societal, and cultural, of much of Europe.

        Have you seen the film Of Gods and Men? I’ve been recommending it to many people. It’s about the French monks in Algeria who were martyred in 1996, who refused to leave their monastery because of their loyalty to their witness in that particular place (and to the people of the Muslim village which had grown up around the monastery). Place and local community are very important, but relatively overlooked, themes of the film.

  4. May 6, 2011 1:28 pm

    First of all, I hope you get to find that home space you are missing in your new house Jenny.

    Secondly: What a wonderful reflection!

    You made me remember a conversation that took place in the University I am working at between some members of the Humanistic department (of which I am part of) and the director of the Architecture one. The topic of discussion was how people deals with space and -as architects create, built or redefine space into places by limiting it in diverse ways of inside and outside- the conversation derived into the topic of inhabiting the space.
    Having a personal experience of the different between one’s house and, for example, a hotel room, our architect was wondering about that effective difference between both things even when, factually speaking, they are extremely alike and technically interchangeable.
    Several topics were discussed there, from how receptive to everyday’s life different architectures were, to things like familiarity. But then on of our Doctors on Philosophy came out saying: the difference is that those other places that are not home are spaces full of “things”, while home is a space full of “symbols”.
    And I think this relates a lot to your thoughts above. The items in homes are less useful than fully impregnated with memories and the presence of the live that takes place inside of, sheltered by, that space called “house”. While the construction is what builds that space into a house, the most trivial things in factual terms are the ones that change it into “home”; something as small as a figurine that belonged to your grandmother is capable of transmuting the space it is placed in by throwing an effective vital continuity between two points of one’s biography, putting you inside of your own living time. Houses grew into homes not out of familiarity but when they turn into the content of precious things; holders, not of our privacy, but of out intimacy.

    Therefore, I completely agree with your thought that artistic actions help; every truly creative action is a meaningful action. The Israelites were asked to sing to Lord as it is a creative activity full of sense and opens the opaque into a new space capable of being vitally inhabited: sense changes the aura of things and aura creates new spaces and completely different coordinates of in and out. That is one of art’s main virtualities.
    It is like what you said about that cover for your bedroom. It is technically useless, a waste of time, you could have bought it done and it would warm the same. Yet, that cover is filled with the time of your live you gave to make it and what you gave that precious time for. That makes a difference, it is full of meaning; that item holds a story and it tells it to you whenever you and your husband cover yourselves with it.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts,
    Leticia

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