Chernobyl is the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. It’s an incredibly dangerous area because of the remaining radiation. No one should be living there but hundreds do. These aren’t squatters, but people who have returned to their ancestral home - illegally.
In here TED Talk “Why Stay at Chernobyl?”, Holly Morris says, “like many of you, I have moved maybe 20, 25 times in my life. Home is a transient concept. I have a deeper connection to my laptop than any bit of soil. So it's hard for us to understand, but home is the entire cosmos of the rural babushka, and [their] connection to the land is palpable.”
These “babushka’s”, or grandmothers she interviewed say things like:
"If you leave, you die.”
"Those who left are worse off now. They are dying of sadness."
These statements sound like confirmation bias but they are true! These women have lived on some of the most radioactive land on the planet and yet many have outlived their counterparts who were relocated three decades ago for safety reasons.
Again Holly Morris, “How could this be? Could it be that those ties to ancestral soil, the soft variables reflected in their aphorisms, actually affect longevity?…The power of motherland, so fundamental to that part of the world seems palliative…Home and community are forces that rival even radiation.”
In Advent we celebrate the Incarnation, that Jesus the eternally existent Son of God, became fully human with and for us. He PLACED himself in a particular time, religious & cultural moment, geography, and people, and in so doing, rooted and submitted himself to every strength and weakness of that place - our world of sin and decay.
Often everyday life just carries us along, we’re busy, we have our tasks and routines our jobs and bills, and then we get up again the next morning or the next year and do it all over again. We often don’t take the time to ask, “what am I really doing this for? Do these routines matter? Why am I here, in this place? As a church, why does God have us here?”
Ordinary life just moves along. But, in the Christian Year Ordinary Time moves into Advent where the church is called to cultivate a posture of reflection. The fact that this season comes at the busiest time of the year makes this especially difficult, but during this time we are meant to ask some of the questions above and to re-locate ourselves for the coming year.
For those Russian grandmothers and their families, their rootedness in a specific place trumped virtually all other concerns. While we may look at their decision to live in an exclusion zone as not only foolhardy but unsavory and boring, they could never be accused of living life accidentally. Their purpose was to hold space in their ancestral lands for generations to come when perhaps the radiation would abate and Chernobyl might once again be a thriving city.
Advent tells us that God’s redeeming love made present in the person of Christ effects us spiritually, physically, and culturally; it takes root in the places we actually live. This season I invite you to ask “how?”