Our need for a sense of place

Nicky Lock

I recently described myself to a group as a “mongrel migrant” – what did I mean by that? I was referring to the fact that I was raised until the age of six in one country by parents not of that country, lived the rest of my childhood and early adulthood in a second country, spent the first four years of my married life in a developing country and then migrated to Australia. Having revisited the country of my early years recently, I am gently delighted by the matching pictures I have of myself in the same beachside park taken at age 5 and age 55.

Some years ago working with a client who was raised in a children’s home, much of the time was taken with her researching her family tree: finding out as much as she could of her forebears by poring over the details contained in births, marriage and death certificates. During her counselling, she enjoyed reminiscing over the limited memories she had of distant family members, as if talking over the long held stories in her mind brought them to life, and in some way, increasingly developed within her a sense of peace about who she was and where she belonged in this world.

This need for a sense of place seems to be a basic human need, and is related to our need for a sense of belonging. Indeed it is a concept that can be broadened in not relating just to physical space, but the social and community space we occupy, and of course, finally involving our relationship to eternal space. In his poem, the Four Quartets, T S Elliott ponders the relation of earthly place and time to the eternal in a Christian scheme of things.

There is argument about the influences of modernism and post modernism on the various “spaces” that we inhabit. Dogin writes “the aim of the social theory modernity was to widen sense of place through the practice of standardisation across the globe” which can result in “each individual seeing sense of place as almost a redundant concept as all they see is sameness.” Conversely, postmodernism, with its emphasis on individuality and difference, encourages local responses to capture the needs of the locality.

I consider that as a migrant, I am more conscious of the human need for belonging and connecting to the surrounding space, but wonder how others both relate to this, and incorporate the concept into ways of both relating to others and doing ministry.

“you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” Ephesians 2:19