Thursday, 25 August 2016

A place to call home

Before being collected to go to St John's Canton to officiate at a funeral, I spent the morning house sitting, as the last of the contractor's teams set about replacing the original cast iron gutters and down pipes with modern plastic ones. Our house is old, heavy gutters, however well fixed originally, can suffer from ageing. There is a risk of them detaching in bad weather and causing damage in a fall. The light plastic ones can also fall in a storm, but the impact would be much less. Thankfully these houses are not yet the subject of a conservation listing order. Whenever home improvements are made, extensions built, loft conversions installed, there's no uniform pattern imposed. Slowly the appearance of the street changes, and becomes much more varied than the measured uniformity of the original build, whose chief decorative feature is colourful brickwork patterns contrasting with grey Pennant sandstone.

Unfortunately for the workers, there was drizzling rain from lunchtime onwards, but they carried on anyway. The job couldn't be completed totally however, as scaffolding obstructed installation of the of the lowest gutter, though not its removal. It won't take long once the scaffolding is dismantled however. At five, I went into the office and spent the evening catching up on necessary company business which is needed before we can present BCRP finances to our accountant for vetting. Getting it all right is vital for the success of what we do, and there can be no cutting corners. I'm fairly confident that we paid sufficient attention to the detail, and that our financial planning is proving as good as it should be. Just as well, since this is the first year in which we have a full time employee to look after.

News of the latest Italian earthquake set me thinking. For millennia, the Italian peninsula has been geologically unstable. Yet, people have made their homes, built villages and towns in hill country and been afflicted by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions with terrible loss of life over millennia. It seems that the benefits of living in the place far outweigh the risks. Some may move to live in safer areas, but most don't, despite the struggle to rebuild homes and re-establish a devastated economy. Perhaps this can only happen because the sense of community with a sense of place is the greatest of human assets. 

This contrasts in many ways with the contemporary culture of mobility embracing millions of people, either out of necessity or from opportunity to live differently. The internet, so say, abolishes distance, and people build on-line communities of interest that embrace the world. Yet every website still has its Home Page. Everyone starts somewhere which can later be referred to. The trouble with excessive mobility is that many feel they don't really belong anywhere. They may think of themselves as digital nomads, but fail to understand that ancient nomadism revolved around a succession of special places to which a clan would resort with the passage of the seasons. A sense of belonging to the land is far more important than any sense we may have contrived of land as property someone can own. In the end, as the Psalmist says "The earth is the Lord's", and our place in is His gift.

A sense of belonging is essential to our sense of identity. Having moved around a great deal over my lifetime, my sense of being a Welsh Valleys boy, European, and a priest ordained for Llandaff diocese are important to who I think I am. Where I think I belong, where I come to rest, alive and dead, are however, issues yet to be resolved. "Here we have no abiding city.", as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews states. We've made a home and been at home in dozens of places over the years. Cardiff is the place in which we've been settled for longest, and we both love it, but I still can't help wondering where I truly belong and will finally settle and not want to go anywhere else. Not at a result of infirmity and need, but from fulfilment and content. Will I ever really setle down? It's all part of the great mystery of our existence, I guess.

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