Place has a way of anchoring us in the world. Most of us can recall childhood homes, special vacation places, that certain spot where we felt most comfortable eating lunch at school, where we were when news of tragedy reached our ears.
I’ve been thinking a lot about place lately.
My initial thinking formulated around a list of all the places I’ve lived and significant memories or feelings attached to each. It was interesting to see what rose to the surface in that process. I will likely revisit that list and those thoughts, but in some of my daily reading I came across a comment regarding places that are “linked to tidal shifts” in our lives. That phrase triggered a mashup of memory and images and took me into some deeper musings…
Exposed cliffs of crumbling rock perforate the hills along the northern edge of the valley where the unincorporated community of my childhood perches midway between hilltops and river-bottom. The most prominent cliff outcropping nearest our home was simply and appropriately called The Rimrock.
Like most children, my youngest years were spent exploring, creating, and imagining within the spaces immediately surrounding our home: the haystack fortress and snow bank mountains, the climbing tree, the woodpile, shed, and corral.
Horses and bicycles eventually opened up new territory, and my growing interest in wildflower identification lured me into the forests, pastures and glades that lay just beyond the northern perimeter of the community.
These forays lengthened as I grew up, so perhaps it was inevitable that by the time I was in my teens, The Rimrock beckoned from afar. Following first an old ranch road, and then an overgrown skidder track, brought one to the base of the cliff – a challenge to climb straight up, but easy enough to navigate by circumventing it through the tree-lined slopes to the left.
Sitting on the edge of The Rimrock provided an expansive view of the entire valley – the height reduced livestock and vehicles to minuscule and muffled distant valley sounds. I generally went to The Rimrock with family members, occasionally with other friends, but the time that anchored me most to that place, I went by myself. I don’t remember why I was alone, why I even ventured there that day, but I do remember very distinctly sitting in the haphazard arrangement of straight-edged boulders that delineates the top of The Rimrock and gazing out across the valley.
Maybe that was the day I started to understand the power of metaphors. I thought about how my life to that point had been lived in the shelter and familiarity of that valley and my family, but now I was older and could see there was so much more beyond. Yet, I did not want to minimize the significance of this place to the person I was becoming. I thought about how the cliff itself, for all its tumbled crumbling exterior, paralleled imagery from the Psalms – a tower of strength, a mighty fortress, a rock and a refuge. There was a sense of security here. I was deeply drawn to the solitude and quietness of this place on the edge, to the solidity of the rock beneath me, and to the richness of the beauty spread out before me.
I was on the edge of things in life, too, growing slowly towards the then mysterious and anticipated-dreaded world of adulthood. Sitting there that day reminded me that even though I would continue to live in the valley lands of many places that God’s perspective of my life was always expansive. I could trust him fully for the things I could not see.
I had no idea then how much the tidal shifts of life would continue to teach me about trusting in the midst of the unseen and about hungering for God’s perspectives while fumbling and faltering through deep valley places.
Many years later, I have come to realize that place, while geographically specific, has had a certain fluidity in my life: I can see how that time on The Rimrock and its accompanying thoughts and emotions have developed over the years and is likely the underlying catalyst for my ongoing yearning and love for alpine spaces. Is it the geographical space I love most, or is it the deep connection to God’s expansive perspectives, bringing me to “a spacious place” (Ps 18:19) and causing me to “stand on the heights” that both renews and anchors my soul?
As I have processed these thoughts over several months, I am more inclined to see that perhaps it all has less to do with place (although place has been and continues to be instrumental), and more to do with patterns of grace and rhythms of living out life within the context of God’s story. And right now the whole concept of seeing my life as part of a far greater whole, a greater purpose, fills me with joy. It sanctifies the ordinary, infuses the hard things with meaning, gives hope and confidence for what is yet to transpire.
Rimrock and mountaintop perspectives are not eternal or heavenly; they are very tangible and earthly. But perhaps they are also God’s faithful reminder to me that He does see and know all things, that His ways and thoughts are beyond my knowledge or understanding but are fully trustworthy, and that the beauty and majesty that so thrills my soul are only a fractional reflection of His glory and majesty.
Place may anchor us in the world, but it also provides rich and humbling glimpses into eternity.
Photo credit: A. Kruse