Lost My Place

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

“Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

~ Simone Weil

     In the last two centuries, globalization has exploded. Communication, collaboration and relocation are accessible in unimaginable ways. Opportunities to connect with others are endless. Ways to work together are plentiful. Options of places to go are abundant.

     In the 1980s, the prevalent educational mantra for youth went something like this, “You can do anything, if you put your mind to it.” Years later, our society is still struggling to shed this mentality. It permeates our culture in all sorts of ways. It sets the tone for instant gratification, entitlement, busyness and overworking. It has shaped our focus as a society to doing, and baptized thinking as ultimate. We have become a society obsessed with progress dependent upon personal willpower. 

     The combination of globalization and the elevation of the human willpower have created a dangerous concoction of hubris. We drink deeply from the waters of individual self-reliance with access to unfathomable resources, which only reinforce our illusion of autonomy. The telecommunication industry has developed a mirage of human connection. The seemingly endless options of social media combined with the ability to communicate nearly anywhere produces this idea that we are more connected than ever. And yet, if we are honest, hiding behind the glow of our phone screens, human loneliness is growing and flourishing. Under the guise of relationship, we are more connected than ever before, but there is a lack of depth and meaning to these connections. These artificial connections are increasingly habitual and automated, and corrode our capacity to develop relationships of presence and attention.

     Certainly, technology is not to blame here. Telecommunications are a common grace, tools, which can be used toward human flourishing. It is not the actual technology, but the intent, motive and use of the person involved. So how are we being duped? It seems as if we have lost a sense of place. As society has become progressively postmodern, our collective worldview is more eclectic. In some ways, this is helpful as it gives us perspective. But in other ways, it distorts our sense of place in the grand narrative. There’s less emphasis on beginning and end, and hyper-focus on progress. We have been hypnotized by the means and forgot all about the end. And so, we are constantly mesmerized by the next and new thing.

     So what do we do? The correction is not to completely withdraw from society and the use of technology. We are called to be faithfully present in the public, and technology can be used appropriately for the common good. Craig Bartholomew’s insightful book, ‘Where Mortals Dwell’ on theology of place helps to connect the dots between sense of place and artificial connections. “Like all humans, Christians are placed, and for better or for worse they will shape the contexts in which they live…  Much of that shaping is either lost to history or waiting to be excavated…” It is this rootedness for humans, that we are embedded into a local and particular place that allows us to be present and pay attention. Bartholomew continues, “We will not attain the practice of place without a deep spirituality; sensitivity to place requires restful attentiveness…” With the misuse of technology and the options of globalization, our ability to pay attention has been atrophied. It is incredibly difficult for us to tune in and be present. Again Bartholomew nails it, “The best writers on place speak of the need for attentiveness, familiarity, silence, slowness, stability, repetition, particularity, hope, respect, love.  These are all characteristics of the fruit of Christian spiritualty, but rare in our speed-driven, consumerist Western culture.  If placemaking is part of our journey out into the world, then it needs to be funded by a deep journey in – engagement with God, engagement with ourselves, and engagement with one another.”

     It is vital for us to remember that in creation, God placed humanity in the garden. The concept of the right place or land is familiar theme throughout the story of Israel. And the return of Christ marks the beginning not of an ethereal heaven, but of the knitting together of heaven and earth for eternity. The people of God as embodied souls will finally be glorified and live together in the same place with God in a renewed creation. When we remember how we started and where we are heading, we have a better perspective of how to operate here in the present. It also alleviates a bit of the anxiety and pressure to make this moment count (or else), and allows us to enjoy it. So whether it’s being present and paying attention in an interaction with another or perspective and a sense of place in the mega-narrative, place is a big deal. It is in this sense of place that we can rest that God is present with us, and trust His process towards restoration.