“I hear you bought 552 Compton,” Sally exclaimed as she approached me in the Fellowship Commons of our church. Her eyes and smile sparkled with excitement she could not contain. She continued, “You know I used to live right next to that house.”
“Of course, Sally, I remember visiting you and your husband when you still lived on Compton.”
“Well, I was delighted to learn you are buying that house. Do you know you’ll be living on holy ground?”
With that, she had my full attention. She proceeded to tell me that the site of our home, before it was developed, was low enough for a small pond that neighborhood kids would skate on in a winter freeze. When the developer wanted to put a house on the property he needed a large amount of fill. So he obtained truckload after truckload of dirt from the nearest building site that involved major excavation. Sally told me that the pond and low ground was gradually filled in and then built up so that the landscape actually slopes away from the house in every direction. Where did the dump trucks come from with all that dirt? From 703 Compton Road, from the excavation that was being done for the new sanctuary of Northminster Presbyterian Church!
Sally and I agreed that it was marvelous that the Pastor of Northminster would be living on dirt taken from the ground below Northminster’s sanctuary. “It’s like you’ll be living on holy ground,” she repeated with a laugh. If our family needed any confirmation of the decision to purchase that home, we could seize upon this remarkable connection of 703 and 552 Compton Road. However, we eventually learned that holy ground did not prevent the need for a whole new sewer line to be installed from house to street! The backhoe pulled up Northminster dirt from 10 ½ feet deep, dirt that had not seen sunlight since 1965. The ground did not feel very holy during that project!
Holy or not, we’ve had a love affair with our home and church and neighborhood. We’ve been rooted in this community and the relationships in the northern hills of Cincinnati. I acknowledged in Part 1 of this “Awareness of a Whereness” the feelings of leaving behind the familiar, comfortable, wonderful elements of this location. Then I shared Richard Rohr’s provocative quote that, “Someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in—but only to be moved out from.” He challenges us to stretch beyond the familiar and settled places of our lives.
A survey published by the Barna Group earlier this month documents how most Americans expect to stay where they are or have no plans to move. Fifty-nine percent of respondents indicated they expect to stay put. Perhaps our famous American mobility and nomadic patterns are trending the other way, to local roots and building long-term community. If so, that could be very encouraging and wholesome for our souls. Not surprisingly, older adults are the least likely to move. The older we get, the more settled we become. Perhaps that’s why Richard Rohr is challenging his readers in the second half of life to venture beyond the familiar. And for exaggerated effect, he declares that homes are not for being lived in, but for moving out from! We know that both are true, but he prods us to let go of the assumptions, pursuits, and habits of our established lives to find out what God wants us to become later in life.
Seventy-five years ago T. S. Eliot voiced a similar thought in his poem “East Coker.”
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For another union, a deeper communion.
I see myself now in these lines. My awareness of a whereness is filled with gratitude and wonder at the profound attachments of the past two decades. But now my home is a place to move from. And the holy ground is not in the dirt or address or whereness of any community, but in the presence of God, the everywhereness of the Lord who transcends place, who goes before us and meets us in the New. He is the one who summons me to explore, to be still and still moving, to venture toward another intense union and deep communion. Farewell, Holy Ground … another Holy Ground beckons.