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On the eve of the European elections, patriotism – or at least politicians' appropriation of that condition – is much in the air. I shall refrain from any temptation to refer to scoundrelly tendencies and consider instead, the gentler, and what I believe to be the more fruitful concept of a 'sense of place.'
There will be few of us who have not experienced the awareness of the indivisibility of a landscape
or urban space with something deep-rooted and nourishing. It may be aesthetic – the music of Benjamin Britten and the long, shingled littoral of Suffolk; it may be John Clare's lyrical and melancholic evocations of the woods and pathways around his Helpston home, or the mill-scapes and spindly figures of Lowry's industrial north country. Perhaps it will manifest in a sense of wonder at the ingenuity and endurance of the technical genius and vision of those who spanned the river at Ironbridge Gorge and built Ribblehead viaduct. These are my reference points as an Englishwoman. They remind me that I cannot be alone in knowing myself as not only rooted in, but taking meaning and awareness of possibility from familiar surroundings.
It is these different experiences which form our emotional and spiritual responses and invite us to reflection on how we may use them in solidarity, in justice, in incarnating what it means to be human in the cultures and locations in which we are placed.
And lest that should sound like an audition for Pseud's Corner, let's remember that those who would make fellow citizens and sharers of our space into the 'other' or seek to persuade us that they can't share what is universal because they look different, call their Creator by another name, have a memory of other landscapes, or even live north of Carlisle, impoverish what we already have in common and diminish what we might become.
Power may like to claim its postcode, but people know better when they listen to the truth of experience and acknowledge its universality with generosity. The mean-spirited introversion of nationalism and patriotism perverted which would blind us to this must be resisted.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet