Friday, December 14, 2018

broken as a bell after the war

I don’t think it is possible to feel all the pain that comes with being a human, so we attach it to other things—like a Vance Joy song, or a window, a bench, a coffee shop.

We can’t even bear all the joy that comes from living, so we store it away in parking lots that we pass on our way to work, we leave it at benches by fountains, we tuck it into books and leave it on beaches or restaurant bars.

I clip-clop up the stairs to the second floor reference section. As I enter the nearly empty Monday morning stillness of the second floor foyer, the memory of studying at those tall tables hits me so palpably, I feel as though I just walked into a wall. The joy that permeates those tables and chairs, that rides the sunlight pouring in those oversize glass window-walls.

Our places are not just environments, they are our storehouses, where we have stored our treasure, where we have left our hearts—because our hearts are not even capable of holding all of themselves. We are supersaturated creatures, spilling over our limits. What we are outruns our capacity to hold it; we outstrip ourselves.

To be a human has always meant to be a person who lives in a certain time and a certain space. There is no human who exists in abstract, who is unmodulated by a place, who can contain themselves in se.

No, to be a human means that you must have a place. And to live in a place means that we will make it a sacrament of our lives. It will become marked with our stories. We add them, like stones on top of cairns, to the stories that our predecessors have left in those places, too.

This land that is called holy—this land where God once walked—is this land holy because Christ, like any human being born onto the earth, began the process, from his very first moments, of making his world a sacrament of his own self? He stamped the soil of Galilee forever with the memory of his first steps, the air still rings with his laugh, his heart was broken somewhere whose significance was made in that moment. He had conversations on a street in Nazareth, and now that street is holy, because in the memory of God exists a specific memory of a person's face, a voice, and the sunshine on the dusty ground—the memory of God contains a memory of himself as a body in a place.

We know that that body is holy, we worship that body. But why is the place holy? Not simply because a holy body walked there, but because a place is always an extension of the body—an extension of one's being into the world, into the world that is not him or it. One's being is extended beyond oneself. Places are assigned memories, and when we enter them, we enter a memory we had forgotten, or we step back into a moment or a love we had left there.

To walk through the Garden of Gethsemane is to walk through the memory of God, to see the earth of Palestine is to behold a land whose identity is stamped by the God whose memories of love are attached to specific plots of land. To walk through any place we have lived is to walk through our memories of love. To walk through the land of Canaan is to walk through the memories of Love himself, come to life on earth, and forever engraving love into the ground where he pitched his tent.

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