Mexico. I know, I know. It is a little strange to start an article about Cheyenne with Mexico, but bear with me for a moment. For it was in Mexico that I discovered a love and appreciation of my great western diocese, which encompasses the entire Cowboy State.
Now you are probably thinking that I am getting ready to criticize Mexico and so make my home sound better. Just the opposite. In fact, spending the summer of 2019 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, was my first encounter with a group of people that really believed and acted as if the place they lived was in fact their home. Before I even recognized this, I experienced it. The tortillerias on every corner, the mariachi bands at celebrations, the local mercados for food — they all added together into a cultural identity and a deep sense of knowing who they were. In the midst of this, I was lamenting to a companion that I did not feel like I had a cultural identity that I could be confident and happy about. My colleague responded, “All that is needed for a cultural identity to form is for the people who live there to love the place they live.” I was struck deeply by that.
It brings to mind Psalms 27:4 “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Of course, the ultimate house is the heavenly kingdom, where we will dwell in the loving trinitarian embrace, but to understand, let alone desire, that heavenly reality demands the appreciation of its earthly parallel. The heavenly house of the Lord is understood better when we love the “house,” or community, in which, and with whom, we dwell now. Do you love where you live? I was confronted with that challenge, and I’ll admit I had to wrestle with it for a while. But slowly and with much reflection, I began to discover, or better yet rediscover, what it is that I love. Because I do love Wyoming, and here is why.
Do you love where you live? I was confronted with that challenge, and I’ll admit I had to wrestle with it for a while. But slowly and with much reflection, I began to discover, or better yet rediscover, what it is that I love. Because I do love Wyoming, and here is why.
When I return home for break from seminary, the best part of the whole drive is when I cross the border, which of course is signaled most notably by at least a 60 percent to 70 percent decrease in traffic. Wyomingites have a certain pride about being the least populated of the 50 states. When criticized by urbanized folks about our lack of development, we agree full-heartedly that it is really not a good place to live and they should never consider moving there. We don’t mind being a primarily rural community. In fact, we love it. Even if we don’t articulate it well, there is something formative about hopping in a pick-up and heading out on a dirt road without fear of crossing paths with anyone, free to be alone with your own thoughts. Now, we may not like cities and traffic and constant noise and chemically hazy days, but that is not to say we do not like people. Going with my dad into town (yes there is a clear distinction between “town” and everything else), I was accustomed to him raising the one finger (pointer, not middle) to almost every car we passed, and they would wave back! You cannot go to the grocery store (singular) without running into someone you know. Sometimes this is annoying, but at least it demands that you treat people humanely. When you run into people that you will never see again, it is easy not to extend the common curtesy of a hello and a smile. In a small town, the lady for whom you did not hold the door open might just bring it up when you see her at the dentist later that day.
If you are ever driving through Wyoming, which most people assure me that that is all they are going to do, you might experience a phenomenon that goes something like this: “Wow, this is amazing … at least I think it is?” As you continue driving, you grow less certain that the sight you are beholding actually is remarkable because if it were, surely there would be some place to stop, or at least a sign indicating what you’re looking at. Don’t be fooled. You are indeed witnessing something breathtaking, and no, you will not find a commercial enterprise looking to make a few bucks off it. If they were in any other state, some of the natural phenomena in Wyoming would have hotels and guiding companies ready to help you see just how amazing what you are looking at really is. The Code of the West says, “Remember that some things aren’t for sale.” Wyoming certainly has not escaped the consumerism of our culture, but people still have a deep intuition that something about this saying is right and needs to be upheld.
In closing, it seems only fair that part of what makes Wyoming a place that I love is my family who lives there. If one of a thousand things had been different, I may have ended up somewhere else, and if that were the case, then that place would become home. This makes it all seem relative, but we do not get to choose our families or where we are raised, and as the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
We can trust that divine providence is at work well before our individual adventures get under way. Even if our circumstances are nothing like the peaceful plains and soaring mountains of Wyoming, the Lord has a plan for each of us.
We can trust that divine providence is at work well before our individual adventures get under way. Even if our circumstances are nothing like the peaceful plains and soaring mountains of Wyoming, the Lord has a plan for each of us. A plan that is for our welfare and not for our woe. A plan that gives significance to every aspect of our life. Chance is our articulation of a designed reality that we simply cannot comprehend. It was not by chance that I was born in Wyoming, nor that I have the family that I do. It is not by chance that I get to call Wyoming my home. It is where the Lord chose for me to be, and for that I am eternally grateful.
This article originally ran in the Winter-Spring 2020 issue of the seminarian-produced BRIDGE magazine. The full magazine can be viewed here.