The Importance of Place

Sunset
There’s something impactful about place. A particular spot or location can have special meaning for us, stirring up our emotions and tugging at the fringes of our soul. And we experience this at an early age. For instance, did you ever have a favorite hiding spot as a child? Was there a particular place you retreated to when you got in trouble?

We never outgrow experiencing the impact of place. For me, it’s driving past the miniature golf course where my wife and I had our first date (yes, I was a big spender!) or the hospitals where my children were born. At each place I have to suppress the lump in my throat that quickly forms.

And when the end draws near, how many of us have experienced a loved one telling us they’re ready to go “home.” There’s an eternal place that calls to us, speaks to us, beckons us.

A college professor of mine, Dr. Ballard, took a group of folks on a tour of the Holy Land one summer. As the host organizer, he had to work closely with their Israeli tour guide, Benjamin. At each stop, Benjamin would give a detailed explanation of the historical and religious significance of each site on the bus and then discharge the group to venture out onto the grounds. However, Benjamin would always remain with the bus – never once accompanying the tour group onto the holy sites. When Dr. Ballard asked Benjamin why this was so, Benjamin replied that he didn’t believe in God and had no interest in any of the sites.

A few stops later, the tour group came to the Western Wall, the only remaining structure of the Temple Mount that housed the Lord’s Temple and arguably the most sacred site in the Jewish faith. Benjamin gave his customary explanation of the wall, and then discharged the group from the bus. This time, however, Dr. Ballard noticed Benjamin along the periphery of the crowd, making his way toward the wall where he stopped and bowed his head.

When they climbed back onto the bus, Dr. Ballard leaned over and said, “Benjamin, I noticed that you made your way to the wall and bowed your head. I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

Benjamin looked out the window and grew quiet for a moment. Finally, he said, “I don’t. But whenever I come to this place, I have my doubts.”

There’s something important about place. As a writer, I try to take into account the importance of place for each of my characters. How does a particular place affect them? Is it positive or negative? Does the place evoke a visceral reaction? Does the place help shape their decisions? Do the characters carry the memory of a certain place?

In your life, what place holds special significance for you?

2 responses to “The Importance of Place

  1. There is something interesting about a place. God did say that His dwelling place is with man, and in the hearts of men. At the same time, how is it that if people pray in the same place for a long period of time, there’s a different atmosphere there? I don’t know, and have never had it explained, but you’re right. There is something about place.

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    • Great comment, Precarious! I remember my father telling me of Rabbi Silverman, who for many years was professor of Old Testament at Vanderbilt. One day his students asked him what was his favorite name for God in the Jewish faith. He thought for a moment, said there were several good ones, like Jehovah Jireh (the Lord our provider), Jehovah Nissi (the Lord our banner), and Jehovah Rapha (the Lord our healer). But his favorite was, “the place.” His students didn’t understand, so he elaborated. He said for him God was “the place,” the one spot where his soul longed to be. We were created by Him, and our souls long to return to Him and luxuriate in the presence of the One who loves us. To him, God was “the place.”

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