Sometimes, when telling the history of our faith, we imagine that new ideas developed in a single generation. We often do that with the concept of monotheism. We read the book of Genesis and go through the story of Abraham and Sarah leaving the land of their forebears and following God’s call thinking that these two people, in one generation, left behind the concept of a god of place and embraced the idea of one God who is everyplace. In reality, however, this idea took generations and generations to develop. Jacob builds altars and celebrates events in specific places. Moses goes to the holy mountain to talk to God. Our people claim a specific piece of geography as the holy land. Even today, generations later, we tell the stories of our lives in terms of place. In this journal, I often write about the places where I have lived, despite having a fairly sophisticated theology of history. I have peached and taught that God is revealed in the history of our people and that Christianity, like Judaism is a faith of history, not of place. It isn’t quite that simple. Place continues to be very important in the stories of our people.
We are aware of place as we prepare for yet another move from one place to another. Our days of calling ourselves residents of the Black Hills of South Dakota are limited. In a couple of days we will head to our new home in Washington and a new owner will move into the house we have occupied for the last quarter of a century. This house, these hills, this community will always be special to us. But we’ll no longer have the keys to the door and the possessions of another will occupy the space where we once lived. When we bring our grandchildren to Rapid City to visit, it will be like when we took our children to Chicago: “Here is a place we used to live.”
We are trying to bid farewell to this place in a careful manner, savoring the many places where we have experienced community and the life of faith. We’ve been taking walks in some of our favorite places: Placerville, Skyline Wilderness, M Hill, Sheridan Lake, and Canyon Lake. Autumn is a good season for this kind of farewell. The weather has been good, but it is variable. A wind will come up and the air will turn cold. It can go from sunny and warm to snow in a matter of hours. The air has that autumn smell as the leaves begin to dry and turn to dust under our feet. The geese raise a clamor as they gather together in preparation for their fall journeys. They remind us that we aren’t the only ones who are leaving.
Our faith and our traditions teach us that we are not moving away from God. As sacred as these places are, we know that God will be present with us when we are in other places. We will find a community of faith in the place where we are traveling. But this has been a good and important place in our personal story and there is much that we will miss as we move on to the next chapters of our lives.
It has taken us nearly five months to make this transition. This week will be our fourth trip west. We have taken our time to sort and downsize. We have allowed ourselves the longest period of transition of any move of our lives. This seems appropriate because we are entering a new season of our lives. We are retired. I still have trouble noting that as we fill our forms for the utilities and enter change of address for various businesses. Like the weather outside, we are in the autumn of our lives. We move a bit more slowly. We cover a bit less distance each day. Things take us longer than once was the case. We feel a few more aches and pains as we move about. Maybe we are a bit like the geese. Something is stirring within us and making us restless - ready to move on.
We’ve been living in our house with practically no furniture for a couple of weeks now. Our clothes are in suitcases - the dressers are in Washington. We have our patio table in the dining room - our beloved oak table has moved. There are only a couple of chairs in the entire house. Most of the rooms are completely empty now. Still, it feels very much like home to us. We seem comfortable in this place. But we definitely have a new home now. We know what our new address looks and feels like. We have a list of projects we want to pursue as soon as we get there. We are anticipating the celebration of Thanksgiving with our son and his family in our new home. My sister has already visited our new home and will return for another visit in December. We’ve been talking with our daughter as she and her family plan a two week visit for February. We know what our furniture looks like in the bedrooms of our home in Washington. We’ve met some of the neighbors. We’ve walked around our new neighborhood and know some of the vistas that will become favorites. Our new home is one of the places where trumpeter swans and snow geese spend the winter. There will be no shortage of birds with their raucous calls.
I remember the autumn I went off to college. I did not know at the time that I would never agin live in my hometown. It was early autumn, more like summer. The leave had not yet begun to change. The river was running low. I walked around, sensing that I was on the edge of a big change. I was excited to be moving on to a new adventure. There is a bit of that feeling this week as we prepare for our next trip West. Something big is happening, but we will always think of this place as our home.
Like the people of our faith whose stories we read in the bible, after many years there are many places we can call home for surely God is in this place.