the mourning in moving: making spaces into places

My wife and I are in the midst of moving home.

It is a predictably arduous undertaking, and we’ll be glad when it’s over and we are settled in our new place.

But on the other hand we feel a sense of mourning over leaving our current unit, even though we rent and do not own it.

This is not necessarily the first time I have felt this way. Any time I have moved homes in the past (only three times or so) I have felt the same way. In fact whenever I am in the geographical area of a past home I often find myself driving there and sitting out the front.

What is it about our attachment to particular places?

Why do people attach so much value to places and spaces?

Why do people, groups and religions enter conflict, even violence, over particular spaces that are deemed special, sacred or holy?

In their book What Makes a Good City? Elaine Graham and Stephen Lowe write:

… ‘all social relations remain abstract and unrealized until they are concretely expressed and materially and symbolically inscribed in living space’ (Soja, 2003: 275). ‘Places’ are thus never completely physical locations nor abstract concepts. Rather, places are spaces of social relations; they are constructed by human activity and human culture. ‘A sense of place’ requires people and societies to inhabit and occupy it and – crucially – to invest it with meaning.*

What makes a place is not walls, but people, experiences and shared meaning. Whether it be a good (or bad) cafe, a workplace, a religious site, the place of romantic memory or a home, we give spaces meaning, and thus the status of ‘places’, by our experiences.

Conversely places help shape how we see the world, and thus our experiences. It works both ways.

For my wife and I we feel attached to our current home because it was our first as a married couple. We have not been here long, but nonetheless we share memories and meaning here. The way we created our ‘place’ says something about us. This place has also shaped our experiences. To move it both joyous and mournful.

I suppose all aspects of cities say something about us, since we ‘create’ places. These places then transform us in a circular dance of creation, meaning and change.

How does this reflect on the way we design public space, parks, housing and churches?

It may help to reflect on the fact that we create ‘places’ by transforming our environment because we emulate God in his creative acts. In this way our desire to create places, including creating homes, says much about what it means to be human.

It may also tell us a lot about God.

Have you experienced the mournfulness of moving place? How did it affect you? What were your reflections?


*  Elaine Graham and Stephen Lowe, What Makes a Good City? (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2009), 50.

Posted on December 19, 2011, in Culture & Art, Theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I’m currently living in my 15th house. I think I have only ever mourned one of them and that was the house we lived in when I was in year 4 at primary school. I find moving kind of refreshing and fun, it’s exciting packing things and trying to make them fit into the boxes and then unpacking and finding new places for all the knick knacks. I don’t think Io have ever lived anywhere long enough to be totally attached to the place.

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