Because Place Matters…

Posted by on Feb 19, 2023 in Blog | 2 comments

round brown wooden table between two chairs and ottoman chair

I still remember the lines from Paul Tournier’s book, A Place for You, “Basically I have always been looking for a place. A place to call home.” Tournier writes at the interface between faith and psychology and insightfully explores the importance of belonging and knowing that there is a place for you.

Place might be a psychological zone, but often it is a physical one – the tangible contours of a garden or a familiar chair that is left open for you. In my last post I explored Wolterstorff’s idea that Shalom (or Flourishing) is made up of 4 large blocks – relationship with God, with place, with community and with self. Of these I’d like to explore “place” a little more fully as it seems to me that it is the one most often overlooked, and one which we should understand more deeply. The world’s most searing injustices and greatest aches are often around a loss of place.

A surprising pastoral request spurred my initial thinking about place. An elderly member of the congregation, though still very much alive, had organised to have the headstone for her grave made in advance. When needed, it would be a simple task to add the year of her demise. However she didn’t have a place to store it, and as my wife Rosemary then drove a mini, she thought our garage would have enough space and be ideal. Not that she didn’t have room at the farm where she and her ancestors had lived since the late 1600’s – but the rest of her family were finding it confronting to bump into the headstone on a regular basis, and so she had turned to us for help. We agreed, and it stayed there for a little over 2 years, at which point it was required to serve its purpose. Before she died, she had shown me the place where she would be buried. It was on the farm, alongside dozens of her family – if my memory serves me correctly, the first grave dated back to 1686. I remember standing there with her. She had the most extraordinary sense of tranquility as she pointed out just where her grave would be dug. “This is my place… this is where we have been for hundreds of years.” Now true, the pastor in me wanted to quietly correct her theology, reminding her of the earth made new we would one day occupy, but one look at the serenity on her face told me to zip it, and I just stood there with her, enjoying a sacred moment of absolute tranquility. She had a place…

So many people don’t. Colonisation saw the dramatic loss of place for multiple millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world. In Australia we are only slowly coming to recognise the enormity of this, and the terrible hurt and damage done. There is a long road ahead, but perhaps the journey is now underway.

New tragedies continue to unfold. It is estimated that there are currently around 103 million displaced people who had to flee or have been forcibly removed from their homes. What does it mean to a displaced person to be reminded that having a “place” is an important part of flourishing?

The Bible stresses the importance of place. The first place is the garden of Eden, expulsion from it being a result of human foolishness and defiance. In slavery in Egypt, the Hebrews long for the place promised to Abraham and his descendants. After a long exodus, a “land flowing with milk and honey” opens for them, but it is never a smooth or settled ride. Exile is to follow. Ps 137:1 records the lament for loss of place: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept when we remembered Jerusalem.” A later return to the land brings short lived relief. At the time of Jesus the conquest by the Romans saw the Jews almost as slaves in their own land. It was their place, and it wasn’t.

For Christians the particularity of a place is of secondary importance to participation in the Kingdom of God. We wait for the renewal of all things – a new heaven and new earth where all wrongs will be put to right. While national allegiance is appropriate and helps give a sense of identity, our deepest identity is tied up to our relationship with Jesus. That does not mean that place is unimportant. To the contrary, we must serve God where we have been placed, for there is purpose in all of our living.

On a daily basis, the concept of place is being eroded. Our workplace is being replaced with temporary contracts and hot desks we share with others. How do we belong when so many are not able to leave even small trinkets behind at the end of the day – little signs that we were actually there are often now forbidden.

Perhaps our churches could be better places for people – joyful zones where the welcome is deep and our name is remembered. Many churches are such places… many more could be. And many displaced people could find that they have a place. That might well require many changes, for we have to think what would help the one who has no place to be at home. Secure that we belong to God and have an eternal place, perhaps we can rise to the invitation. Isaiah 56:7 tells of a day when God’s temple will be a house of prayer for all nations. What a day that will be when we find a place that is home for all nations. It will only happen at the feet of God – for God is the ultimate resting place for us all.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Emre Can Acer on

Repost with acknowledgment of source. Feel free to forward to all who might find it helpful.


  1. Thank you Brian. As one who was born on the mission field and has not really had a place to call home, I have had to learn to make where I am home. It works but I do look forward to an eternal home that will remain and which I do not have to leave.

    • Thanks Phillip. Having changed country a few times, I identify.

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