catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 14 :: 2006.07.14 — 2006.07.28


Into exile

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:4-7

Last week, our new friend Anthony stopped by for a visit at our store.  After faithfully following paths through a series of what he would call "synchronistic" relationships, Anthony has become a part of the resident community at a local retreat center.  One of the calendars at the retreat center is the same as one we have hanging in our store and the verse of the month for July resonates with him: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."  Anthony has entered into our community and friendship feeling a sense of exile from his home in Washington, D.C., even as my husband Rob and I are anticipating our own exile to a new place.

We came to Three Rivers three and a half years ago with a sense of being in exile from the places where we grew up.  Plans to move to Portland, Oregon were put on hold while we sought a winter retreat in order to attend to our weary spirits.  However, we quickly began catching glimpses of a new home in this place: quirky bookshops, active and progressive faith communities, a culture of artistic appreciation, identity rooted in history, colorful faces.

Though no official badge of citizenship is granted in small town America, we feel a sense of belonging here and an earnest desire to be good local citizens.  We've taken pride in supporting our locally-owned businesses with our dollars and with our advocacy, as well as by starting a small shop ourselves.  We've attended to local air and water quality and invested in a relationship with our neighborhoods by biking most places we go within town.  We've networked almost obsessively among people and communities for the sake of justice, of encouragement, and of play.  We have come to love the place and the people, joining natives and fellow exiles alike in a fluid, edifying community that is identified in many fruitful marriages of ideas and passions.  I can honestly say that we have sought the welfare of this city, to the extent that our place of exile has become our place of belonging.

In two weeks, we will pack our furniture into a truck and drive an hour and a half north to the community that will be our new center, and our new place of exile.  We hope our hearts, even if in pieces, will follow us over the subsequent weeks and months.  We are grieving the things we cannot box up to take with us: a familiar wave to a fellow shopkeeper on our way to the post office; the spontaneous invitation for a walk or a beer or an embrace; the time spent cultivating a garden, a hospitable public space, a network of social consciousness; the comfort of bidding our housemates a sincere "good night, friend".

Still, there are sentimental things I will pack up to store in the attic, literally and figuratively, to pull out when I need them.  One of them is this: a memory of working with our housemates to create a detailed outdoor meal for Anthony.  As a linguist, Anthony speaks of word origins, and his exploration sticks with me of words beginning with "com", meaning "with".  That evening was community—"with unity"—as we marveled together at flocks of starlings and shared the pleasure of wine and conversation and company ("with bread"). 

And it leads me to wonder that, with firm but gentle invitation, God commands investment in the place in which we find ourselves.  Cum mandaremandare, which has shades of "commit" and "entrust".  The intellectual exercise of etymology is also an exercise of the heart, as I reflect on the goodness of a God who is guiding me into the rootedness of belonging, rather than alienation, in the place of exile.  As much as I want to cling faithfully to my former home, living well and deeply where I am is my act of stewardship toward that place and in turn, the place will care for me.

Thankfully, the command is not to forget—how could I begin to extract the memory and the change and the nourishment that I owe my current home?—but to be and belong in the new city. Rob and I do not currently have plans to build a house or have children in our place of exile, but I have purchased seeds for a container garden next spring and I look forward to the time when I will be able to "eat what they produce," to take in the air and soil and water of this new city and allow it to become a part of me.  Perhaps its nourishment will work beyond the survival of my body to help heal my aching heart.  Perhaps this move is just another stop in the process of taking a long way home.

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