March 2, 2011

Theology of the Land and Being Known

Toward a Theology of the Land...

Certainly the Hebrew people connected hope and redemption with living in the land. Either they were journeying to a land yet revealed to them (Abram) or enroute to the Promised Land, or trying to find ways to keep their land from the Assyrians--whatever it is, land was significant to them. It identified who they were as a people and where their home was. Jesus redefined the Israelite ideas of land.  It's not where you live that defines you, it is how you live. It's not who is in the ancestral line of the twelve tribes, it's who your heart is in line with.  Family and place is redefined as belonging to the family of God. A family that is not specific to a physical place or destination.

And yet, our relationship with the land is still significant in other ways. God gave us responsibility over the earth--to care for it and oversee its use.  We have failed this in many ways. Many people speak into the Christian community today calling us to take up this God-given responsibility and delight and be earth-keepers.  I am inspired by people in my life who are planting gardens, sharing food, getting their hands in the dirt, and restoring in active ways their connection to the land.

Others deep concern is that our land does not belong to us.  As white North Americans we have taken it from the First Nations people.  How can we ever move fully in the direction of God when this is unreconciled?

We also spiritually come to understand our new places in God as journeying to a new land or place.  Henri Nouwn talks deeply of the "new country".  You can see one of his reflections here: Soul Midwife: New Country.

But there is also another understanding of place.  It's the place of our physical home that intersects with our spiritual home: our community. Nouwen calls community the place where we celebrate and where we seek forgiveness.  It's the real flesh and blood place that we work out who we are as a children of God.  Without a community of people that knows us over time, no one knows us. And to be known is one of the greatest thing about being human.  It's also terrifying and humbling and hard work.  Because as soon as we are known, then the mask is off.  Our real, authentic soul is revealed with all of its blemishes and cancers.  Also, when we are not known, it is easier for people to idolize us and glamorize us.  It is easier to be a leader from a distance or to be a "friend" from a far.  When things don't get messy because we are at a distance, it is easier to stay in relationship.  But it's only pseudo-relationship because we are not known, nor do we really know.  I think that our Christian culture is often built on perceptions, but not real knowing.

I have a strong desire to be known in this place.  Sometimes it overwhelms me because it is so painful to not be known and to be lonely.  Other times I want to shrink back because when someone starts to know me I am not sure if what is revealed is what I want it to be.  I am overwhelmed with not being who I want to be.  Yet, what choice is there?  To walk in the land of the upright and just, I must show up, be present, and be real.  That is the only way to be known.

This terrified me 20 years ago, and it still does.  But perhaps less, and perhaps differently.

Provers 2: 20 says:  Therefore, walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the just.  For the upright will abide in the land, and the innocent will remain in it, but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. 


The path of the good and the just, the path of the innocent is only found by walking alongside in community. No one abides in the land without knowing and being known.  It is one of our greatest, most humbling and terrifying ways to abide.  That's my take on theology of the land: place, knowingness, community--it at the heart of what it means to live the spiritual life.

Today, I wonder for you and for me--what is the step forward into the Land of the Known? What is the path to walk on is that is the path of the just and the way of the good?  How can you know it without knowing?  Who knows you? And what do you do with the loneliness that overwhelms you at times?
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