I was unpacking my office boxes at the new house, trying to figure out what would go where. After putting up some new shelves and loading them with my books, it felt like something was missing. “Hang on,” Angela said to me. “I think I know what this needs.”
She went to the basement and returned with an oblong box. After peeling away the newspaper and bubble wrap inside, she brought out the Last Supper sculpture my parents gave me as a seminary graduating gift. I put it on the top shelf. Something inside me clicked.
“NOW it is my office,” I said.
There is a period of time after moving when the new space still feels alien, like you are in someone else’s home. Bringing something familiar into the new space helped me make an emotional switch.
I sometimes have a tendency to spiritualize things, as though objects and places do not matter. But physical things do matter. We learn and experience the world in primal ways like touch and smell. Physical things communicate meaning. We attach memories and ideas to them, inscribing and arranging our world in a way that helps us navigate it. In the same way that objects made me feel grief at leaving my familiar home, they can comfort, too.
Since I’m working from home now, I’ve thought quite a bit about how to teach and remind myself that I’m at work. I cannot, for example, work in my bathrobe. I need to dress and act as though I’m going to work. I was proud that today, my first day “in the office,” I was downstairs by 8:00, journaling, reading the Bible, and making my to-do list. In MY office.
As I begin dreaming what our church worship space will be like, I enjoy imagining the kinds of things that will help people feel welcome, that will communicate values and theological meaning. I think about the cultural and counter-cultural ideas we want to teach through touch and smell and sight, using the kinds of primal senses God gave us to experience our world. I would love to learn from others: what kinds of things communicate welcome to you? A sense of sacred space? What physical signs and symbols point you toward spiritual mystery?