The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths, was intended as a reminder of the Jewish nation's 40-year pilgrimage in the wilderness and, to a larger extent, to their very pilgrimage on the earth, to their status as aliens and strangers. When Nehemiah mentions this feast after leading the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem (Neh. 8:13-18), surely he remembered the estrangement of his exile --- his and that of his people. The feast had a visible, very tangible symbol: the Jews built fragile booths from tree boughs and such, and lived in them for a period of time. Reading about this I sometimes wonder what visible reminder God's people can now construct to remind us of our exile, to help us hold lightly to the world while still putting down roots and building houses and living among Babylon.
In Craig Bartholomew's Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today, one of the things he argues is that the Christian's obligation is to image heaven (our place of lasting, perfect placement) by working to build a home here that not only points to, but in some mysterious way is already a part of, the greater home to be realized in the fullness of time. This doesn't conflict with our sense of estrangement, our exile. Rather, to build a home, literally and figuratively, prefigures our heavenly home. It posits hope --- some significant continuity between this world and the one to come. The tension we feel between place-making and exile is a good one: we hold lightly to what the world offers, yet we take all that is good, true and beautiful and adopt it and build upon it. We seek to make our homes, our cities, and our country prefigure the one to come, and yet we come to the task humbly, realizing that we cannot erect heaven on earth.
How does my home prefigure Heaven's home? For one thing, it is bounded. It is protected from the elements and yet lets in light. For another, in and of itself it has differentiation: special corners, a favorite chair, a stairwell, a study. It's not all the same, or shouldn't be, but fits the contour of the land and of the lives of the people who dwell in it. And it has a spiritual and physical foundation: it is literally rooted in earth, built on Christ. Bartholomew says more and, if you have a mind for it, you can take it up, but I have to get on with life, and place, and loving the world the way Christ loves it.
Jesus said he would prepare a place for us. I, for one, look forward to that. In the meantime, I attend to my own place-making by listening to what is around me and taking up all that is virtuous. The first step is learning to see and listen --- and that's a good part of what Outwalking is all about.
Oh --- if I start building a booth in the backyard, don't judge me. Join me.