John Stilgore's observations based on his explorations of the built environment are useful in peeling back the veneer of the particular places we walk through, drive through, and live amongst to allow us to see the myriad of human decisions that interacted with the natural environment to give us the sensory experience of the places in which we live and work. Planners' decisions about density, minimum lot size, building setbacks, and size and placement of signs all combine to produce radically different places. Combined with the characteristics of the natural environment, architectural style, and interior design choices, all these choices have a cumulative impact on us: This is where we live, not there; this is where we feel at home, not there. This is the place we know and even love.
I've heard of people who treat place like a commodity. They shop for a suitable place. They analyze the job opportunities, the schools, the climate, and the tax burdens, and then they move there. That's foreign to me. They move here, live here for a few months, and then figure they know the place. They don't. That takes years. That takes a relationship with the sights, sounds, and smells of a place, as well as a history, and a web of relationships deep and wide. That's not a superficial acquaintance but an epi-knowledge, a knowledge that gets to the center of what a place is, of its essence.
Something like this kind of knowledge is what Paul is talking about in his "prison letters" --- Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon --- when he prays that believers may "know" the Lord. As Stephen Smallman points out, Paul uses an intensive word for knowing, the Greek word epignosis, which is "knowing at the center of knowing." The essence. The right stuff. As Smallman says, that kind of knowing leads to doing, to a living out of the reality of truth.
Stilgore is closer to God than he may know. The epi-knowledge of place is is a point on the way to the epi-knowledge of God. Knowing a place is, whether conscious or not, a way of knowing the Place-Maker. More than that, knowing a place is crucial to loving a place, and loving a place is pretty darn close to loving the Creator.
Rootless wanderers concern me. People who love their place, who know it, who are wedded to it, on the other hand, are not far from the Kingdom.
[The "40 Days On the Edge" posts are my ruminations in light of Stephen Smallman's devotional entitled "Forty Days On the Mountain," read in conjunction with Harvard Landscape History Professor John Stilgore's "Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places." Both books may be ordered by clicking on them where they are listed in the sidebar under "Current Reading."]