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 Walking in Wonder: When Our Spaces Become Places

December 5, 2020

Claude Armstrong


“…behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31)

I love walking in a well-planned city with well-designed spaces and buildings. Whether inside or outside, design speaks, and our human spirit, created in God’s image, resoundingly answers. There is a certain something about inhabiting a thoughtfully arranged space. If the architect, urban designer, or landscape architect does their job well, upon entering the space you are impacted by it—think of walking into a gothic cathedral. Whether subtle or sudden we know we’ve come into something special. There is a sense of fit and rightness that may be hard to explain, but the space speaks to something inside of us, to our humanness, in some familiar way—to the deepest part of us.

What is it about these volumes, squares, courtyards, or open spaces that evokes such a visceral response? Is it the scale, the use of light, the views? Why do we go back to the same places to talk with a friend, drink a cup of coffee, get out of the office for lunch, or just be by ourselves on a fine day? We don’t always know why we frequent these places, yet that perception of something just beyond our full grasp is what designers are after! When the space draws us in and embraces us like a friend, the designer has fulfilled a purpose that reflects the very creativity of our Creator. What we call design, God called very good.

“God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply… Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Gen. 1:28 & 2:15, NKJV)

God created all things to reflect His pattern and order, emanating from who He is. He looked on chaos and with a word called it into order. The result was a garden suitable for His image-bearers to dwell and find purpose in. God’s creation formed a home, a place to reflect His life, beauty, and fellowship. Though man and woman fell from this closeness, all of God’s creation still retains a dim picture of this creative order.

When these elements are brought to bear on a space there is something about the loftiness and closeness, the contained openness that boggles the mind leaving us in wonder on some level, whether small or great. I’ve experienced this in the rolling landscapes here in Germany, the welcoming airiness of an atrium a Vietnamese Church I visited, and in the more sober reflectiveness of Ground Zero in New York City. These all have in common an ethereal sense of welcome that invites us to linger and experience the space for its goodness. They are expressions of the revelation of God’s divine nature—of order and beauty.


On Becoming a Place

Much discussed among urban planners, urban designers, and architects is the question of what makes a space become a place? What causes an area of two or three dimensions to take on an almost living quality? Like giving a name to a child, a space goes beyond simply existing and becomes something living.

But when does a space become a place? What are the qualities that indicate this movement has happened? We can draw some indicators from God’s creation story. From this vantage we can sense the essence of place as that which touches our deepest longing for the first place of fellowship with God. There is order and purpose, you feel like the space is really for you and others, causing a desire to experience, linger in, and reproduce it in some way.


Inspiration that Inspires Places of Purpose

“…before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. …and there was no man to till the ground” (Gen. 2:5, NKJV)

“The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” (Gen. 2:8, NKJV)

Before God placed Adam into the garden it was not even a space. It was a field, an undeveloped plot of ground. God ordered and organized it into a garden then put man (and later woman) into it. Once He did this, He told them to be fruitful, multiply, and tend. We see that the garden was more than something simply to look at; it was something to be experienced and engaged. What was once undeveloped had been made into a garden filled with meaningful and eternal purpose for those placed there. They experienced God’s creativity and participated in His creative work. But the creative work was in response to the creative work God had rested from. This labor was not as we know labor—a product of the fall, burdened by sin. Adam knew labor as a child would, working alongside his Father, parroting what He had done and was doing. This order, beauty, and fellowship served to invite the man (and woman) into all that God was doing, reinforcing not only a sense of identity but also a sense of purpose borne of relationship with God.


Places of Purpose are to be Shared and Experienced

When we have a sense purpose and a drive to achieve it, we look for spaces in which to accomplish it. Adam did not question where he was. He knew he belonged there doing the thing God had him doing. Through his labor Adam realized that this place was God’s, and also came to understand that it was for both himself and others. His desire to share with God in this space expanded into a desire to share this God-space with others. God answered his desire by joining Eve to him. In fact, Adam’s sense of purpose was even more fulfilled working with and around another towards God’s purpose than when he was alone. He was to tend the garden now with Eve, they were to keep it in a state of ever-growing fruitfulness, for themselves and for others who were to come. Adam found joy as he sought to create together alongside someone else. This once simple space had not only been filled with purpose, it was now taking on a new dimension of shared purpose.

“…the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” (Gen. 3:7, NKJV)

When these elements—order and purpose—are brought to bear on a space, it becomes a place we want to be in. A space to step back, to relax and be rejuvenated, to create and converse. Whether the openness of a beautiful countryside or the natural lighting of a church atrium or a reflective space, it’s places like these that we desire to be. Could this be why we want to paint, photograph, write about or produce songs about the places that inspire us most? We want to capture this beyond-our-grasp essence. Without realizing it we find ourselves participating in the divine work of the garden, practically entering into a dimension of the dominion mandate to “…be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28)


Where Place Meets Our Everyday

But what about our everyday? The grand vistas that are demonstrations of place were ordered by God in nature and built by man to inspire, but our day-to-day spaces at first glance don’t seem to approach such a grand view or lofty purpose. But in our everyday, the deep calls to the depth of God’s purpose already working in us in Christ. It beacons us “to will and to act according to His good pleasure” as we work out what He is working in us (Phil 2:13, CSB). So much so that we are called to act in the everyday, to create and produce, as the designer does in our cities and our Creator did in the garden. Consider the sidewalks, the corner store, the yard, porch, playground or park we see every day. These are elements that connect, promote interaction, and invite us into each other’s lives …if we will let them. These everyday things can also serve a higher purpose. Repetition and routine can foster familiarity, resulting in recognition, which in turn promotes security, which increases our use of these shared spaces, producing places through which relationships can grow and develop. What starts as sharing a smile or a wave can lead to sharing walks together, carpools, clubs, or even our homes.

Our homes… now the question of space versus place becomes quite personal. A home is so much bigger than a house. A house is a space. But a home, that’s a place. Here’s where we, like children, work alongside our Father in our everyday, shadowing Him to do what he does. When we order our homes toward meaningful purpose, organize them to serve both ourselves and others, and open our hearts for others to linger, we mirror God in His creative work. Our homes become a place of help and healing, a way-station of refreshment along weary sidewalks of disconnectedness, where others experience God through our open-handed welcome.

Let the labors of that first space-to-place transformation work in our lives, as we participate in the Creator’s grand work and walk in the wonder of life-giving relationship.

The featured image is courtesy of Aaron Burden. You can see more of his marvellous work on his website or at Unsplash here.


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  1. Jody Collins says:

    What a gift to see Claude’s words here in this space…from across the sea. Loved this.

  2. So happy to understand these concepts thru knowing the joy of ‘making home’ with this guy! And this season is taking it even deeper❤️.***Thankful that thru our Christ, an online community of artists is transformed into a beautiful garden on the mountain of Zion, where believers cultivate, savouring the Father’s gifts together in His House and shine out, showing the way home to those still in darkness.

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