(and below for those who prefer the script)
Living in a good part of town, having a view, a garden, seclusion, peaceful neighbours or simple access to local facilities: everyone has a slightly different view of the best place to live.
But we are all agreed we all need somewhere to live, it is a basic human need.
So how does ‘where we live’connect with ‘how we live’and whether or not we can ‘live well’?
This series has been called ‘Living Well’and in this video I want to think about how very important ‘place’ is to help us live well.
We talk about ‘a place to belong’, ‘a place to call my own’, ‘a place where I feel at home’. We instinctively feel and sense the value of a place and this is all very well if you have a good place to live in and it explains why so many of us invest so much time and money in finding that place and getting it just so.
But is it possible to ‘live well’ even if the place where you live is not that great?
And even if you are satisfied with the actual place where you live, what if there is a hunger in your heart to belong, to fit in to be part of something bigger, which no amount of material benefits seems to provide.
The Bible mixes up the idea of place with the idea of a person.
It’s a bit like a riddle “when is a place a person and a person a place?” The answer is when you read at the beginning of Psalm 90,
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”
In this phrase we see these two categories mixed up.
When we think about ‘person’, we think about knowing and being known, about being with someone or being absent from someone, we focus on relationship.
When we think about ‘place’, we think about belonging or being excluded (feeling ‘at home’ or not), we think about permanence, and if we think for long and hard enough we realise that ‘place’ is what gives us our sense of identity, a deeply ingrained sense of who we are.
So what can this verse mean? And how can it help us to live well?
When I was thinking about this I did a quick count on my fingers of all the places I have lived in my lifetime. It comes to somewhere between 15 and 20. I wonder how many places you have lived in?
There is no wrong or right answer, it is what it is. If it is a low number then the chances are your identity and sense of belonging is highly bound up with that place.
If it is a high number, the chances are you either feel a bit rootless or you have learned to find your sense of belonging somewhere else.
And that is what the psalmist is encouraging us to do: to find our place of dwelling in the personhood of God.
“God (person) is our dwelling place.
If this is true then it would be God who gives us a sense of belonging, our sense of identity and our sense of who we are.
Is that possible? Is it possible for a relationship to do that for us? Yes, I think it is.
When I reflected on all the times I’ve moved in my life I realise that five of them happened before I was even 10 years old, and we are not talking about moving down the road most of those moves involve changes of continent. What was it that mitigated the effect of all that moving around? It was the presence of two loving and significant people in my life: my parents.
These people, my mum and my dad, where ‘my place’, they gave me my sense of identity, my sense of belonging. And if that is possible from humans and to humans, then it is also possible between the person of God and human beings who seek to make this person of God their dwelling place.
When Jesus came he said “abide in me, and I will abide in you” and that word ‘abide’ has deliberate overtones of living in a ‘place’.
The life of faith is a way of life in which we seek to remain constantly connected to the presence of God who promises to be constantly present to us. John 14:23 “if anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him”
An extraordinary promise.
‘Yes, but how?’ is the not unreasonable question, you should be saying at this point. How do we find our dwelling place in God? We do it by practising the discipline of keeping our hearts and mind fixed on the reality and the presence of God who promises to remain with us.
For the most part this means being present to ourselves and to the present moment. Choosing to turn away from the constant distractions, choosing to turn away from all the self soothing, mind-numbing habits or addictions which all ensure that there is no space in our soul, no opportunity to deliberately turn our minds and thoughts towards the truths we profess to believe.
I have just begun to read a book called ‘Living Without Lack’ by Dallas Willard, no doubt I will be saying more about it in future videos. It is a book of reflections on Psalm 23 and the opening chapter challenged the reader to memorise Psalm 23.
Not merely to memorise it but to meditate on it, to sit with it, to turn it over and over in one’s mind.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing” – this is a truth I profess to believe, do I really believe it?
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil” why?
“For you are with me”.
How can this be true for me? I am very afraid of dark valleys, I find any kind of desolation, disappointment, discouragement incredibly difficult.
But here is this word picture of who God is: “my Shepherd” how can I let the truth of that statement begin to be true in my life? By choosing to focus on it deliberately and consciously stay with it.
You might think you know Psalm 23 but I’d encourage you to commit it to memory. Saying it over and over, will bring out words that you thought you had spotted but actually never really noticed. For example, you will realise that this Psalm ends “for I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”.
I will what? ‘Dwell’. We are back to the matter of having the best address again. To live, be in a good place of belonging, acceptance and that dwelling begins now not after I die.
We began this video with a verse from Psalm 90, I’m going to close it with a verse from Psalm 91,
“If you make the most high your dwelling.. Then no harm will befall you, no disaster come near your tent”
How can that be so? Hear the words of St Paul from the New Testament, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God… Neither death, nor life, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation’
If that isn’t a way of living well, I don’t know what is.