Reading: excerpts from Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
“I think this is what Nathan learned from his time in the army and the war. He saw a lot of places, and he came home. I think he gave up the idea that there is a better place somewhere. There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got, and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to heaven.”
“Love in this world doesn’t come out of thin air. It is not something thought up. Like ourselves, it grows out of the ground. It has a body and a place.”
I’ve got a bit of wanderlust in me. Do you? I’ve lived in New York and Minnesota, Berlin and London, seen the Pantheon in Rome and the Parthenon in Greece. I watch nature documentaries and travel shows and pine for new places. Somewhere within me is the belief that there is a “better place,” a place into which I fit perfectly. I don’t just long for beautiful scenery, but for beautiful community as well. I want to find the place where I belong.
This has caused me more than a little anxiety. Because the reality is, you can live just about anywhere you want these days. Sure, there might be some logistical challenges to manage, but if you want to move to Albuquerque or Kalamazoo or Sarasota, go for it! What’s stopping you? And, you can belong to just about any community you want, too! People spend years and years “church shopping” trying to find the right church community for them. The possibilities are endless!
After seminary my wife and I pondered where to go next: Do we live in New York with my family? Or Virginia with her family? Do we go some place new like Oregon or Washington? Do we go abroad and live in London? We were quickly overwhelmed.
Around that time I started reading the works of Wendell Berry, the Kentucky Farmer, activist, poet, and writer. In his book Hannah Coulter, he speaks against wanderlust, saying: “There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world.” The “better place” is a myth, an illusion, a farce. The best place for you is, more than likely, right where you are. If you spend your whole life searching for where you belong, you’ll never be anywhere long enough to actually belong to it.
To belong to a community and a place does not happen magically. It happens over time and with love. Berry argues that if you really want to belong to a place, then you have to love it for what it is, with all of its blessings and trials, beauty and ugliness.
That’s as true for your geographical location as it is for your church community. The church community to which you belong is the one to which you commit yourself. Simple as that. There will be moments of great beauty and moments of deep hurt. That’s what it means to live in a community. That’s what it means to live in a place. That is what it means to live.
So take a look around you. This is your home. This is where you belong. This is your place. Now let love grow.
God of all creation, we give you thanks that you give us a place to live, a particular place that we can call ours, our home, our community, our people. Help us to be thankful for the good moments, help us to endure through the bad ones, help us to love our communities not for what we wish they were but for what they actually are. By your grace and mercy.