Our Sense of Time and Place

In my last year of teaching, I knew it was my last year of teaching, at least for a time. I didn’t know it in a calculated reasonable way. I didn’t know that I knew, but with that ever elusive sixth sense, I knew, “I am leaving here. My time is limited. This will soon not be my space anymore.” Maybe it was this knowing that caused me to choose my theme for my classroom—a rather lofty, abstract theme for a first grade classroom, I’ll admit:

Finding our place in time and space.

I grounded the theme in vintage decor. A world map and verses like “So teach us to number our days” and “The sands of time are sinking” graced my bulletin boards. I wanted my students to realize that THE WORLD was big and yet they each had a place in The World that they lived in here and now. I don’t know if they learned that.

I am not sure that I did.

Time and space, my Survey of Mathematics teacher tells us, are part of the world of numbers and reason. We can know them empirically, by measuring and putting numbers to them even if we can’t actually see them or put our fingers on them.

The great fiction writers who wrote the classics we still read in our literature classes had more than an empirical, measured knowing of time and space. The title Anne of Green Gables evokes more than just an image of red hair. We see red roads running to the sea and blossoming apple trees and a country church with bunches of full-skirted women outside. James Herriot evokes landscapes of rolling, grass-covered hills dotted with sheep, low stone walls, and the warm browns and grays of farmers gathered around mugs at a pub. Gone with the Wind finds staying power, because we all grieve the loss of Tara, of home. We long for wrap-around front porches flanked by magnolia trees, warm days, southern drawls, and the gentle chivalry that made every woman feel like a lady. And chivalry—how many fairy tales take place in a land far, far away a long, long time ago in a castle surrounded by a moat with knights in shiny armour and princesses with plumed, pointed hats?

But that’s another time, another place, another story.

This fall, my classmates and I had the privilege of spending an evening at one student’s home farm, the place he would talk about with affection, like an old-friend he hadn’t seen in too long. Seeing the wide, rushing creek, fields of Holsteins, and quintessential farmhouse, riding the old farm truck over browning fields, and eating his mother’s homemade pizza told me more about him than any words he could have said.

What is this sense of place, of time? How does it shape us? In a conversation with my aunt recently, I asked if today’s literature has the same sense of place that literature used to have. I don’t believe it does. Somehow, we are losing this, losing part of what it means to be human.

James Sire writes, “A child of the seventeenth century was cradled in cultural consensus that gave a sense of place . . . . A twentieth-and twenty-first century child of the Western world, often gets reality defined in two widely divergent forms—her mother’s and father’s[1].” Families break apart and move away. People travel and find all these exciting places to leave pieces of their heart. They make friends here, explore cultures there, but I wonder if we even know who we are anymore. I expect we are made up of all these places to which we go, and I expect there is strength in this diversity, but I wonder what is lost in the fragmentation.

Perhaps this break-down has something to do with the decay of a dying world.  Albert E. Greene writes, “We were born with a being that occupies a certain amount of space; we can be weighed and measured. We also have the blessed privilege of moving about in space. Space was God’s idea, and it belongs to Him[2].” But space and time are mortal and men are mortal, too.

Our immortal souls long for eternity and belonging. In high school, I wrote a poem that expressed some of this:

I don’t belong in a world of sorrow,

I don’t belong where time is borrowed,

I don’t belong where the little ones cry,

I don’t belong where man’s bound to die,

I don’t belong in a world of fears,

I don’t belong where they count the years . . .

I don’t belong to a world of decay,

I don’t belong to a single day,

I don’t belong here—that is my story—

But I belong to a home in glory[3].”

 Yet while we are here, we all seek to find our place in the space of now, praying to the God who put eternity in our hearts even as He transcends both time and space.

[1] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009), 26.

[2] Albert E. Greene, Reclaiming the Future of Christian Education (Purposeful Design/ ACSI, 2012), 191.

[3] Lichty, Yolanda. “I Don’t Belong Here.” January 30, 2011.

One Comment on “Our Sense of Time and Place

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