Monday, April 30, 2012

"...not a way but a place"

There is a day
when the road neither
comes nor goes, and the way
is not a way but a place.
(Wendell Berry, "1997: VII" from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997)
For those of us who still wander in time and space, the idea of home is inseparable from the experience of a journey, or, for some, a pilgrimage toward something sacred.  Concepts of place and journey, movement and stability shift and slip.  Wendell Berry imagines our ultimate hope in terms of our journey ending: the transformation of a time-bound journey into an eternal home.  But "There is a day"--a Sabbath--in which we can find ourselves at home even as we wander, quest, or climb. 

This Sunday, I traveled out of town with my friends Wyatt and Katie.  Wyatt was preaching at the country church where he works as youth minister, and after worship, we three spent the afternoon losing ourselves at a nearby state park. 

Mother Neff State Park, Texas
We found a path and followed it, walking and resting and enjoying the brilliant Texas wildflowers.  It was a very Sunday sort of walk: no hurry, no schedule, no destination beyond a return to where we began.  We were talking and taking pictures the whole way, at home in our good company as much as if we had been settled in our houses. 

Mother Neff State Park, Texas
No matter how far we walk, we will never, in this world, find a place that satisfies our desire for home in any settled or lasting way.  Instead, we find our tastes of that satisfaction in the moments when eternity slips into time: in returning seasons, consecrated hours, traditions, habits, and Sabbaths. 

"There is a day...."


  1. In Theopolitical Imagination William Cavanaugh plays with Michel de Certeau's distinction between map and itinerary, between place and space:

    "The map produces a place by means of an abstract, two-dimensional grid produced by observation, allowing surveillance and control of a particular territory. After the fifteenth century, maps gradually replaced itineraries, which had described journeys or pilgrimages in terms of the actions prescribed at different points (spend the night here, pray at this shrine, etc.). Such itineraries describe not place but space. A space takes into account the vector of time, such that different spaces are created by the ensemble of movements and actions on them" (92)

    He goes on to connect the "Eucharistic community" ("Church") with the concept of itinerary, we see everything in terms of a description of "ends" as we interact with places in the journey, transforming them into space, and seeing everything as essential. The drive from here to Mother Neff and back, as well as the walking journey whilst there, overflows with meaning as we are the church together. Anyway, that's what you made me think about.

    Also, as we say on the YouTube, "first"

    1. Oh, Wyatt, I think I must now add this Cavanaugh book to my reading list. What you quoted reminds me a little of Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, which I need to finish reading. Thanks for reading and giving me some new ideas to ponder.

  2. I have a question that I've been pondering that relates to Sabbathing. Should one Sabbath from things you love? For example, reading?

    1. My first reaction, Emily, is that we should not necessarily Sabbath from things we love -- to do so would make Sabbath a kind of fast, when in fact it should be a day of feasting. I actually tend do things the other way round -- for example, I usually do not sweeten my hot tea during the week, but I do sweeten it on Sundays. This tiny little act reminds me that Sunday is a day of rest and delight, the day when fasting ends. I do tend to stay away from other things that I like pretty well -- like the Internet-- most Sundays, but that's because sitting at my computer is inextricable from working, so even fun on the Internet feels a little like work.
      And, for that matter, I really do love my work, as work, but even the parts I love most -- meeting with students in small groups, for example -- I wouldn't do on Sunday, because that seems to go contrary to the command to keep the day holy, i.e. set apart.
      But of course I also have many questions about all of this. Tell me more about your pondering, Emily.