Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Place Matters

Place matters. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin wrote in this morning's Huffington Post that when she was reading the first three chapters of Deuteronomy, she was struck by how much unnecessary detail there seemed to be about place.

As is often the case, I got hung up on the opening. I had pulled the Torah off the shelf, settled in for a good study, and got stuck on the very first verse:
'These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Aravah, near Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Di-zahab...'
She suggests that it's not just the ramblings of a storyteller gone wild, but instead that there's something spiritually important about place. Think of it. Where were you when you heard the Twin Towers fell? When the Challenger exploded? Or, if you're older, when Kennedy was shot? We remember where we were when something rocked our world. Place matters.

But it's not just tragedies that are tied to place. Tell me about how you got engaged to your partner, and nine times out of ten, you'll start with, "Well, we were skiing at Copper Mountain, and I had the ring in my pocket..." or "It was at her dad's diner at Court and Main." 

We're in the middle of a move from Virginia to Minnesota. We get the comments about the weather, the shift from Southern hospitality to Northern, from chess pies to hot dish, and, did I mention that some people are obsessed with snow? But the question that people ask most is, "Have you found a place to live?" 

It's not the "no" that surprises me. It's the curious way my stomach twists when I say it. It's almost like, if I don't know where I am, it's hard to know who I am. There's something incarnational going on here. Something about being embodied. Something about being in and from a place.

I think the rabbi is right to wonder about the particularity of Moses' final address to his people on the other side of the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Aravah, near Suph, one block off the corner of Cedar Avenue and 210th Street West. Some of the most important words we hear are spoken to us in the in-between places of wilderness and wandering, often a stone's throw from the Promised Land.

I'm noticing that the corn and bean fields smell like they did when I was a child in Illinois. The bigness of the sky reminds me of the way I could see storms from miles away in Texas. The rolling landscape is lush like the Shenandoah Valley. And the highway drivers have that comfortable big-city confidence and nerve. I'm getting accustomed to this place because there are bits of it that make me feel I've been here before.

It's a spiritual connection I sense, a joyful Walt Whitmanesque roiling of sweat and laughter, rootedness, prayer. I sense that something new is happening, and hard as it is to be in between, and lonely without my family here, it's as if a voice is calling from across the threshold, across the Jordan. And I can't quite make out what they are saying. But if I'm patient, if I listen...

What words, what Word, will I hear? Or you? Because it wouldn't surprise me if you're on the verge of Jordan, too, looking forward to feeling at home in a place, looking forward with a little anxiety in your stomach, but looking forward, listening carefully. Looking to the future with a tiny spark of wonder. Looking to the future in hope.

Blessings and Peace,