for the love of place

This week I’m reading Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda by Rosamond Carr. It’s an Out of Africa sort of autobiography about a young New York fashion designer who followed her photographer husband to Africa in the 1940’s. The marriage was listless, and Carr’s love for her husband wore thin. Her love for Africa did not. After their divorce, she remained in Africa as a single woman, working to oversee (and eventually own) a plantation of her own.

Spending most of her life in the Congo and Rwanda, Carr watches the colonialism that issues her passage to Africa give way to revolution. Eventually she observes the political unrest that leads up to the Rwandan genocide of the mid-nineties.

As I’m reading, it’s obvious that Carr was raised in a different era. Though she respects the African people and considers many her friends, there’s still a we/they divide that can feel condescending in modern times. Also, her writing is generally without artistry or depth. What keeps drawing me back into the book is Carr’s love of place.

This is a concept that has troubled me ever since the China trip. I find myself wrestling with it daily, but I can’t find the answer.

There’s something within Rosamond Carr that locks into the wilds of Africa. She feels such a strong need for that place, she is willing to bear peripheral inconvenience for a natural environment that she finds essential. Particularly intriguing is that Carr isn’t an eloquent, romantic, dreamer. Poets are always falling in love with stuff, but Carr’s a pragmatist who stumbles into a soul-deep connection with something created. The ebb and flow of her natural environment permeate her to the point that she cannot remove herself from them. Place and self become so intertwined, she cannot separate the two and still feel alive.

I find a similar passion in Wendell Berry. He and I disagree on several issues, but he’s still one of my favorite writers. Timbered Choir is a collection of poems Berry composed on the Sabbath while wandering in nature. In these poems, he illustrates the soul-dangers of humanity being amputated from created things. When Berry is content to be a pilgrim and not a pharmacist, I believe he taps into profound truth.

It's hard to select one poem that demonstrates his insight. Most of his work relies more heavily upon natural metaphors than the one below, and I don't consider this his best piece. But still, ever since returning home from China, I can’t read it without tears coming to my eyes. I have seen this now full-force.

A Timbered Choir
(Wendell Berry)

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.



The last two lines make my breath catch in my throat. To me, this is what “city” often means. Modern day Babels. Hand-made biospheres. Nature’s hymn, emasculated and bound like bonsai.

It is the story of Lot’s progression, moving closer and closer in to Sodom. Into a city where human progress becomes cerebral and proud, where mind claims dominance over natural order and moral rhythms. Truth is lost like the sun in brown smog.

All things come out of balance. All things come out of proportion.

I feel this danger as we are trying to think about where to live next. I've already written about how we need to sell our current home and move closer to the kids’ school. But I’m frozen. I can't begin the search, because I can’t figure out what my philosophy of “home” should be.

I'd like to run into these Appalachian hills and soak. And listen. And bring wounded children in from the cities to recover from the manmade hell they’ve had to live.

At the same time, I’m learning about people who intentionally move into cities, hacking out a giving life inside choking urbanity for the sake of bringing light on a broader scale. Beautiful.

Downsizing wouldn’t be hard for me. I’m not concerned about the type of house we have. But moving into a city would be awful.

I feel guilty about needing privacy when the world has so many needs. I feel guilty about this ache for place. Is it spiritual immaturity? Is it selfishness? Or, was I made like this for a purpose? Is this a time to die to self, or to yield to love as a calling? Ideally, is home strategic or sanctuary? How do we maximize four walls and eighty years?

And what if you’re an introvert who breaks out in hives at women’s events? Does that change anything?

If I could crack this, I think I could start planning seriously for a move. But right now, I’m stuck. And that stunts everything, since Bobby stays too busy with work to search for houses.

So, any thoughts? Any wisdom? Anybody else struggled with this and found some answers?

Including lyrics from an Andrew Peterson song. I love his good medicine.


Hey Jaime have you heard
A picture paints a thousand words
But the photographs don't tell it all
I see the eagles swim the canyon sea
Creation yawns in front of me
Oh Lord I never felt so small

And I don't believe that I believed
In you as deeply as today
I reckon what I'm saying
and there's nothing more, nothing more to say

and the mountains sing your glory hallelujah
The canyons echo sweet amazing grace
(Oh how sweet the sound)
My spirit sails, the mighty gales
Are bellowing your name
and I've got nothing to say
No, I've got nothing to say

Hey Jaime do you see
I'm broken by this majesty
So much glory in so little time
So turn of the radio
and let's listen to the songs we know
All praise to Him who reigns on high

(by Andrew Peterson)

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Welcome to our family’s adoption journey. As you read, you will see us stumble and take wrong paths. You will see our hopes surge and fall. You will see the gaps in our humanity, and how our God realigns us to His purposes over and again. We think the messiness of this process is important. Sometimes walking with God isn’t a neat, linear package that can be summarized in bullet points. More often, life ebbs and flows around our plans, while God works His sovereign wonders from it all. We are learning so much through this journey. And we are super excited about our new son. If you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you along for the ride.

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