I was in western Massachusetts this past week, visiting my brother and his wife for family time and the expected splash of the wondrous fall color. They had not had rain for a month; the trees weren’t producing the color that is the pride of the Northeast states. And as we traveled, what I did notice was the presence of stone walls. Old walls, still holding after more than a century of wind and water. If there is one crop that never fails it is the rocky soil of New England. My brother has reaped enough sizeable rocks on his property to circle seven garden spots and line a woodland trail.
I remember Robert Frost’s famous poem “Mending Wall” in which he wryly details the spring ritual with his neighbor on the other side of the wall, each picking up stones on his side and replacing them where they had slipped or fallen. He begins ”Something there is that does not love a wall.”
Bonds, not boundaries
God, Jesus, Spirit—the Trinitarian authors and sharers of a bond of peace and love that cannot be sundered. There is in God no wall, no desire for a wall, no need for a wall. For us Christians, it is a constant learning that God is one huge “Something”who does not love a wall. How could the unconfined Creator of the universe, the Incarnate one who kept breaking boundaries and, the ever-free and unpredictable Spirit of transformation at loose in the world, have anything to do with walls?
In one sense, God dwells but does not settle. And Jesus offers us the Way. The Spirit is the Wind. God’s ever expanding, welcoming holiness is a gift for every age and every people of the world. It moves and circles and enfolds ceaselessly. In another sense, God sees no need for walls, to keep people in, or keep people out, but delights in that daring divine invitation, “Y’all come!”
“Good walls make good neighbors?”
That’s what Frost’s neighbor heard from his father. Not so. A wall is a human construct, not born of our desire to be good neighbors, but of our fears and our stony hearts. The barbed wire keeps being strung. Today we witness nations like ours pulling into themselves, seeking purification, “ the nation we used to be,” fed by hatred, justified by claims that “THEY”—those from outside our borders–are to blame for our social unrest, rampant crime, and loss of jobs.
Whether or not we have joined those voices, we in our best efforts to be faithful still have our limits. Being human, and dwelling in human communities, we have set up, consciously or not, barriers to offer protection from whatever threats we believe might make fearsome demands on us or push us out of our present comforts. Too many churches over the ages have claimed theirs as the only truth, kept their sheep within the fold–and the goats outside—with strict limits and penalties and ultimately, the threat of death or hell.
Come One, Come All
But the God of Christ Jesus calls us from that Banquet To Come and challenges us to grow beyond our limits, to join the waves of people from north, south, east and west streaming toward Jerusalem, where God through the prophet Zechariah has pledged “I will be an encircling wall of fire, and I will be the glory in her midst.”
Robert Frost muses that wall-builders should “Know what you are walling in and what you are walling out.”
We know. We learn. By God’s grace we grow in holy Shalom, wholeness and hospitality. Good fences are those being dismantled by good neighbors.