Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Bigger House

When I step out my front door for a walk in our comfy old Toronto neighbourhood one of my habitual laments (yes, there’s more than one – don’t get me started on dog owners) stems from passing so many construction projects. During the 1940’s a building boom replaced the former market orchards in this part of the GTA with hundreds of two bedroom bungalows. I know this will shock you but they were designed with just one bathroom per house. Imagine! 

Apparently very few homebuyers these days consider a house like mine liveable, (even though mine, I admit, now has two bathrooms). On every block there are workers tearing down bungalows and in-filling with mansions like the one across from mine. On a similar–sized lot to mine, the new house is huge, its larger footprint accommodating four bedrooms and five bathrooms. Three people live there. Why are we so lustful for "More" and "Bigger" to the extent of destroying our beautiful planet with excessive development?
(Just a sec - I've got to go change the temperature setting on my air conditioner.)

Recently I came across a quote that I hope will redeem my perspective the next time I look at my neighbour's house or stroll by another infill. Sometimes bigger is better.

 During the early part of the 20th century, some Christians made concerted attempts to bring international unity among Christians, hoping that they could overcome the many divisive doctrines and issues, focussing instead on their common commitment to following Jesus Christ. Other Christians, however, refused to join new organizations like the International Missionary Council and the later World Council of Churches.
In this context Dr. William Paton, Gen. Secretary of the National Christian Council of India wrote a piece where he referred to Colossians 1:13 – 18 (excerpt at bottom of this post) and wrote the following that caught my eye:

“We know, … that it is in Jesus
that the whole universal order of things consists or holds
together. Those who have come to know that, know in consequence
that they are in their Father's house. It is a big house, and
they have begun to explore only a little of it. It has great
reaches, and some of them are still shadowy. But it is His
house, all of it.” (emphasis mine)

Paton was lamenting the way that some Christ followers metaphorically keep drawing up plans for smaller houses with good security so that none of those “other” people can think they belong inside.

Here’s a story (author unknown) about the same idea from the useful website,

This well-known story comes from the annals of World War II. It took place over fifty years ago, but it is as relevant today. Near the end of the war a soldier was killed. Five of his comrades set out to bury him. They saw a little church down the road and asked to bury their friend in that little church graveyard.
The priest asked, “Was your friend a Catholic?”
 “I'm really sorry, but this is a Catholic church and this is a Catholic graveyard.”
Downhearted, they stepped just outside the fence, dug a grave, and laid their friend to rest.
The next morning, they received orders to leave the area. They returned to the church for one parting farewell. But, they couldn't find the grave. Finally, they knocked on the door and said to the priest,
 “We know we buried our buddy over here outside the fence, but we can't find his grave. Can you help us?”
The priest replied, “I sat up the first part of the night feeling sorry for what I said to you. I spent the second part of the night moving the fence.”
The priest had caught a glimpse of God’s big house.

A chorus from the United Church’s “Voices United” likewise urges us to expand our living space:

Draw the circle wide; draw it wider still. 
Let this be our song! No one stands alone.
Standing side by side, draw the circle wide.”

Another song about wider circles comes to mind, a cheesy old pop tune by “The Captain and Tennille”. Sometimes it’s embarrassing to discover what I carry in my memory so I’ll post here the more respectable poem on which Toni Tennille’s lyrics were based:

“He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in.”
                          (Edwin Markham)

Dear Reader, whatever the metaphor, houses or circles, may we heed Paton’s reminder that Love's circle is greater, and God's house is bigger; all of life belongs to God. 

“We look at [Jesus] and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible,…everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment”. (Colossians 1:15 ff The Message)

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Bless You!

We say it when folks sneeze and we say it when we don’t know what else to say and many use the phrase as an email sign off , “Blessings”. On this particular Wednesday, I didn’t have a cold but I needed a blessing.
"Blessing" is such an old-fashioned word and it can sound smarmy, or lack any meaning in the same  way that “How are you?” is often an empty gesture of politeness. Let me tell you how on this day, for a moment, the word “blessed” felt profound.

It was a gorgeous June morning on Lake Ontario, sunny and warm enough for summer clothes but breezy enough to keep me cool as I walked . The lake was the classic blue we think of when we imagine a lake. The sky was literally “sky-blue”, a lighter shade. Walking along the gravel paths between meadows of wildflowers and waving grasses, I kept thinking of the late John Denver’s ,“Annie’s Song”, and sang to the plants around me the one line I know, “You fill up my senses like a night in the forest”. Denver wrote its lyrics as a love song to a woman, but for me it was a mantra of  thanksgiving to the Creator of nature’s delights. Along the way I passed huge mounds of wild rose bushes, whose deep pink blooms rewarded my face-to-face sniffing with sweet perfume. Delicious!

I stopped at the Trans-Canada Trail pavilion that houses the names of hundreds of Toronto donors because I wanted to visit my name inscribed on the “Toronto #3” plaque - a thoughtful gift from two dear friends when I turned 50. I felt grateful for my friends and also for the thousands of other Canadians who try to preserve and renew our country’s natural beauty.

When I started to tire, I snuck down an overgrown path to the small labyrinth painted on asphalt beside the Humber River. It’s in an obscure corner near the eastern base of the dramatically arching foot-bridge that spans the river’s mouth. I wondered how to thank whoever approved and painted the circling lines for this meditation tool of labyrinth walking. I stood in the little circle at the labyrinth’s heart, looking past the stone retaining wall to some geese paddling by on the lake. I named aloud some friends and family, trying somehow to remind God to look after them (what would S/He do without me?)

One of the ways I use labyrinths when I reach their centres is to stand facing each direction in turn so that I can see from different perspectives. At one point I found myself looking up at the runners, bikers and strollers crossing the bridge. It was  heart-gladdening to see so many enjoying the outdoors even on a Wednesday morning. 
Ironically, although I hadn’t seen a single butterfly on my walk through the Humber Bay Butterfly Garden, here, three species fluttered in, one white, one yellow and an orange and black monarch. My ornery heart swelled with praise.

After slurping up some cold fountain water, I started back to the car. I smiled with yet more pleasure when I came across an open-air art gallery! Some of God’s adult children had discovered free toys lying around beside the lake. They’d constructed dozens of sculptures, made from stones and driftwood. Some were mounted precariously on top of the lakeside boulders, providing the sight of sticks and rocks balancing against the blue sky.

Further along I saw a man in runners’ clothes, apparently taking a break as he sat on one of the huge rocks that line parts of the pathway. He gazed at the lake, sparkling in sunshine. As I passed, I said without thinking, “We’re so blessed, aren’t we?” In the next split second I worried that I'd blurted out something weirdly religious, so I was cheered when he smiled and warmly replied, “We sure are!”

Maybe there’s no other English word that sums up the experience of enjoying life’s good gifts, gifts that we didn’t earn and don’t especially deserve.
TV’s Tammy Faye Baker used to sing through her mascara-dyed tears, “We’re blessed, we’re blessed, we’re blessed, we’re blessed, we’re ble-e-essed.”
The simple song had no words other than that one affirming sentence, repeated over and over.
Dear Reader, may you enjoy on this day all that God has provided.