The Deer In The Window

Maryland Bride looking East (Wikimedia Commons)

The congregation I serve in Winnipeg has the privilege of currently inhabiting a riverbank in the middle of the city. One side of our property is landscaped foliage, paved streets, traffic lights, and sidewalks upon which people go for a stroll among cultivated human structures attempting to coexist with nature. The other side of our property is, past a few feet of mown lawn, the bank of the Assiniboine River. It’s wide and slow, carefully, almost thoughtfully, pushing on the boundaries of what we humans have built onto its banks. The river is so wide that from a certain angle, you can easily miss the houses built on the opposite bank, and think yourself lost in the woods with the river to lead you to home.

A congregation should be entirely defined by its current location, but where we choose to make our space at any given point in congregational life does make a point about who we are as a community. Being in the in-between, in this space that bridges the gap between paved roads and unstable river soil, makes me think that we, too, are capable of moving between states of existence without becoming lost inside either one. We build up policies and structures and ways of doing things, and yet at the same time we are capable of innovation and creativity. It is only by being both that we enter into a state of being, a state of becoming, that is larger than a single way. Nicholas of Cusa referred to this as the “coincidence of opposites”.

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Gift from a Deer

I was given this gift by a deer. At the beginning of the monthly meeting of our Shared Ministry Team, just as our chair struck a match to light our chalice, a deer walked into our parking lot, on the city side of our property. She moved slowly, unsurely, clearly disoriented by the trappings of humanity around her. But neither did she run away, even as she caught sight of our movements in the window. We were all transfixed by her, this unexpected visitor to our ministry. She picked her way forward cautiously, eventually reaching the end of our building and the way to the riverbank opening up in front of her — hopefully to lead her home.

This is not the first property or building in which this congregation makes its home, nor will it be its last. We must always be willing to move on if that is what sustainability of a community demands of us. But for right here, and right now, we are in a holy place. May it continue to give us lessons as long as we may inhabit it.

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  • Sage Blackthorn

    “It is only by being both that we enter into a state of being, a state of becoming, that is larger than a single way. ”

    One of my first lessons when I was about 17 was “There is no one right way…. No one right way to feather a nest. No one right way to dig a burrow. No one right to make a den. No one right way to do anything.” The author who said it had pointed out that when you observe nature, you start to see the wondrous variety and variation between how our winged, slithering, crawling, swimming, and four-footed cousins on this world do things. Even looking at the other forms of life themselves, biologists have pointed out how no two are exactly alike. No two leaves alike from one branch to the next. No two branches alike from one tree to the next. No to trees alike from one land to the next. No two lands alike from world to the next, and no two worlds alike in all the infinite universe as far as we know. So if nothing, not even twins, are ever exactly alike, then variation is the norm, not sameness. Adaptation and change the only constants. And yet, many members of the species of homo sapiens seem stuck and intent on making everything the same. Forcing everyone of the brothers and sisters to do things they same way they would. Not all humans mind you, just one modern, global super-culture that can trace it’s origins back almost 13,000 years…. which just happens to coincide with what we teach our children in public school is called “The Agricultural Revolution”. Humans practiced other forms of agriculture before then, of course, but no method so merciless in it’s drive to produce a maximum amount of surplus, and to convert all land to farm land as the style used by this culture. It spread, and the people of this culture waged, and are still waging, a war of conversion trying to force all others to live the way they live. In the process, they….we, are wiping out that variety, variation, and diversity. And as we run out of people to conquer, we start turn on ourselves, becoming ever more hostile towards any variation displayed by our own (by which I mean 1st World nations, modern industrialized human beings, East and West, who are essentially twins of a common birth….civilizationally speaking anyway.)

    It’s good to see people paying attention to the lessons of the deer, the lessons of the river, the trees….. our ancestors had a great many teachers that their descendants have chosen to ignore.