KEEPING PLACE: Reflections on the Meaning of Home | Jen Pollock Michel |IVP Books | May 2017 | 237 pages
I don’t think I’m the only one longing for “home”. But when we break it down, what are we really wanting? I read Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place during a cross-state transition in my own life where we had uprooted ourselves yet again from the familiarities and relationships that had but recently begun to be a comfort.Not all of you are in a time of locational transition, but I know that many of you are achingly aware of what is still lacking in your life when you picture what it might look like to have that security, belonging, and sense of place in the world that is at the center of human need.The kind of satisfaction that home implies goes beyond what we may find in this life as sojourners, but still we can partake of it and still it is worth the effort. Michel’s keen exploration of both the theological and psychological story of home encouraged and challenged me deeply, and my hope is that it will kindle a light in you as well.
Unique to Keeping Place is its focus on theological exposition as a starting place to understanding our desire for home. Michel, and a few meaty theologians that she includes in the conversation, take us from the Garden of Eden, to the history of Israel, to the personal stories of Jacob and David, all the way up to Christ and his promises and makes them our story. She unwinds the trajectory of the Biblical narrative in terms of God’s gift of home, how we’ve thwarted it, and how Christ redeems it. This is simply another way to highlight the ageless tale of redemption that we all know, but its insightfulness kept surprising me with its fresh perspective, and her detailed study holds up against scrutiny.
Along with this rich exegesis Michel shares her own story filled with anecdotes and Marilynne Robinson quotes. Because she has lived—and continues to live—the struggle to cultivate roots and the weariness of upheaval, her theology pours over into tangible application that is far from theoretical. This is where both the encouragement and the challenge comes in. Michel’s wisdom encourages because it affirms the worth of those small attentions that add up to home but may not reach pulpit spirituality, like hand-baked desserts and special coffee mugs. It also affirms the rightness of our longing for roots. Conversely, but also encouraging, the reminder that we are sojourners with our true home still to come frees us from the false expectation that if we “only had” a house, or that grass-is-greener spot in the world, or a better church, or a child, or ______, our hearts would be at rest. My portion of home is not refused me because I don’t live in an era where people stayed put.
The challenge is what Michel calls “housekeeping”: the effortful labor to live out the Lord’s Prayer, “let it be on earth as it is in heaven”. We may wish for a more fulfilling future all we want, but how can we live out this vision until we bring “home” to the world by being a blessing to our city, our neighbors, and our piece of the body of Christ. For me, this notion of impact is a hefty idea that can easily become a frantic effort at doing without the calling to go along with it. But at the very least, home is neccesarily the fruit of land locking commitment to the obligations of tired relationships and chores that play on repeat. These we all are called to. I was touched by Michel’s reminder that dishes are a spiritual activity when the doing of them grounds us in the humility of infinitude, and are a virtue by their stubborn attention to pushing back this world’s tide of decay. For those who find it easier to do than to be, Michel also explores how housekeeping includes the rest and trust of a sabbath mindset. In the doing and the resting she brings the beauty back to the quiet things. This is where home begins.
Keeping Place will nurture your heart and sharpen your perspective no matter if you find yourself single or married, planted or roaming, beginning in life or weary with it. From theologians, to psychologists, to literary figures, Keeping Place offers a wealth of perspective to understanding our own hearts and thereby directing them with purpose and hope. Dig in!
Review copy courtesy of IVP Books