Still Points of the Turning World

After the kingfisher’s wing has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still

At the still point of the turning world.

-T.S. Eliot

 In his poem “Burnt Norton,” the poet T.S. Eliot imagines a moment of transcendence. It occurs as a kingfisher bird, who has just finished flapping its wings, comes to rest.  Eliot describes the precise place where this glimpse of glory was visible: “the still point of the turning world.” That phrase gets at the power of place.

Two weeks ago, I visited the neighborhood where I grew up, and was struck by the impact of place. My former home still stands on 8322 Sugarman Drive in La Jolla, though there is now a large fence around the property. My parents sold it back in the 90’s, and a subsequent owner must have wanted more privacy. Memories flooded my mind as I stared not just at the house, but at the canyon behind it. That canyon had been a playground for me, my brother, and my sister growing up, with its ample space for lizard hunts and games of hide and seek. I was shaped by that place, and decades later, it still felt a part of me.

People of faith are increasingly recognizing the impact of place on us, and our impact on place. You can see it in the growing interest in taking spiritual pilgrimages to sacred sites like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Iona Abbey in Scotland, and Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives in the modern state of Israel. We glimpse it in the growing Christian environmental movement, calling for more faithful stewardship of place. We find it I books published on the subject in recent years, like Walter Brueggemann’s The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith

(2002), John Inge’s A Christian Theology of Place (2003), and Craig Bartholomew’s Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today (2011). In an era of rapid technological change and globalization, the world can seem to be moving at a dizzying pace, leaving us hungry for a deeper connection to a “still point in the turning world.”

Reading scripture, we find place to be a recurring theme. Walter Brueggemann argues the whole Bible is essentially “the story of God’s people with God’s land.” Faithfulness is portrayed not only as a right relationship with God, but also with the land and its inhabitants. “Love of neighbor” logically entails caring not only for people, but for the environment that shapes them. We see in the Bible how our thriving and that of our neighbors is inextricably tied to place.

Beginning in May, the sermons at Knox will explore what it means to live out the call of Christian discipleship in place.  We will look at biblical places, and at how God’s people interacted with them. We will consider the gift place represents, and how God shows up for people in place. And finally, we will look at how passages on biblical places inspire, critique, and direct our engagement with Pasadena and other places in our world today.

Wishing you a deep sense of God’s presence in the places you inhabit,

Pastor Matt

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