I’ve been thinking a lot about walls recently. Walls that offer protection. Walls that foster division. Walls that allow flourishing. Walls that stifle all life. Walls that mark agreed-upon boundaries. And walls that subtly siphon off the best land.
Robert Frost writes in his poem ‘Mending Wall’:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
There are walls we all encounter in our lives — walls built by institutions, by countries, by society, by individuals. Some walls protect the weak and keep the powerful out. Many more seem to protect the powerful and keep the weak out.
But the thing is, we all build walls.
Sometimes it’s deliberate. We carefully lift stone upon stone until our hands bleed and our bodies ache.
Sometimes we don’t even realise the wall is there until we walk right into it, and fall back, dazed and in agony at the impact. We didn’t know it, but over time we have carried stones — of regret, of fear, of grief — back to the same place, slowly piling them until we have walled our selves in.
But, again in the words of Frost, something there is that doesn’t love a wall.
I don’t love walls.
But I confess that I’m damn good at building them.
And after listening to the General Synod debates of the last couple of days, after reflecting on some personal conflicts that have left me in fractured, sharp pieces (pieces which I have since used, hastily but unintentionally, to build new walls), I can see now that dismantling walls ourselves can be just as hard work, if not harder. Knuckles still bleed. Bodies still hurt. And there are all those huge stones to get rid of.
The Scottish Episcopal Church has taken the first steps towards canonical change to allow same-sex couples to be married in our churches. The discussions were hard, not because they were fraught with conflict, but because they were so raw and honest.
The doctrinal clause of our marriage canon which states that marriage is between a man and a woman is like a wall some see as protecting the sanctity of marriage, and others see as an unnecessary barrier to people of the same sex in faithful, committed relationships who wish to be married in church.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
I think many of us in the Church participating in the discussions, listening in, praying about this decision have felt the weight of the stones in this wall. But yesterday, the upper boulders spilled over. My prayer now is that those who weep over this and those who rejoice can walk together through the gap.
I too have a lot of healing to do after the past few months. And after my post of a couple of days ago, I realise I am not alone in my hurt, and it breaks my heart that the Church has broken so many people.
There are lots of stones I have to take down from the wall I have built and carry away. And it’s going to be painful and a little bit frightening. But while I’m not alone in my hurt, I know I’m even less alone in my healing. Those of us in the Church, those of us who follow Christ, are not called to division in ourselves or in our communities. But neither are we called to security.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.