Land is an interesting thing. It’s a blessing, a gift, something that we are tied to. We dwell in it and we work it. Through the land we both are blessed and experience difficulties. In Genesis 13, Lot chose what was beautiful, and ended up settling in a wicked land that one day soon would be destroyed. Abram was promised all that he could see, as far east, west, north and south. It was a gift for him and his family. God instructed him to walk it, to take ownership of it, and to have dominion over it.
My family moved here from the Netherlands a few generations ago, and settled in a beautiful land. A land that was a gift, that was fruitful and full of blessing. They were farmers and made their living by the land. As faithful workers, they exercised their dominion over the land, prospering by it. However as much as the land gives, I think land can also take. The acquisition and division of property can cause strife. We saw this with Abram and Lot as the reason they chose different lands and separated. We then saw this for Lot as he chose his land and in the very next chapter sees it destroyed. I’ve seen strife caused by land in my very own family. My grandfather made an investment on a beautiful piece of property, which eventually caused him to lose everything. One of the consequences to this was strife between him and his brother. The land that was once such a blessing for my family turned into something that much more resembled a curse.
I’m a firm believer that land is something that sticks in your heart though, especially if you come from it. My grandpa, a farmer, a man who lost everything for a time, he returned to the land. I’m sure he felt as though it had betrayed him, but the gift of it and the call to work it are not things that he could escape. This happened some thirty-five or forty years ago, and I know it will always be an event remembered by my family, but my grandfather could not help but to return to the land. He tends an extensive garden, and in his retirement I think that is where he finds himself the happiest. Working the land, exercising dominion and transforming the chaos of soil and rocks and weeds to a beautiful garden full of blessing for many people.
One of the things I miss most about my midwest home is the ability to see for miles and miles in every direction. Looking out over the prairies and farmland as the grasses dance in the wind reminds me of the waves of the ocean. So much comfort fills me as I drive toward home and the cities and mountains begin to flatten and I can again see for miles. I think I can identify some of the feeling that Abram had when the Lord told him to lift up his eyes and to look in every direction, that that land belonged to him and his offspring. I think I can identify with the feeling that the Israelites would experience after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness before they finally return to the land that is their own.
I will always belong in my heart to the midwest and to the land, but right now God has placed me in a city. Someday will I feel as tied to this city as I do to the land of my childhood? Is it even possible to feel that way about a city? As I consider the movement in the redemption story from garden to city, I am inclined to say yes. Will this feeling come about while I am alive, or will it be my grandchildren that someday have this tie? I think that I have to rest in not knowing. My job right now in Washington DC, I suppose, is to take the approach my ancestors took with the land: to work hard, to exercise dominion and to transform chaos to order.
It’s hard to see any transformation from chaos to order through my efforts. The visual is not quite as clear as plowing, planting, harvesting a field. I suppose my efforts to transform chaos come in many different places right now, whether that’s with the preschoolers with whom I spend my Sunday mornings or in organizing and making sense of large amounts of data in my work. In these things I have the opportunity to bring glory to the King who values beauty and order. Here is where I am called to have dominion over creation as I work out my callings in the city.