I am currently in Melbourne recuperating after the Uniting Church Assembly meeting and hopefully finding some clarity for what lies ahead in my own personal life. This morning I went walking. I travelled around the perimeter of many of the colleges of the University of Melbourne. Each one has a fence separating it from the road and each is very different. Some are high and ornate, but still allowing the passer by to see the majestic buildings beyond. Others are lower, giving you a clear view. There were two, in particular, that caught my attention.
The first had well developed, bushy trees growing on the other side. These trees, some time ago, had stretched out their branches and become entangled in the fence, weaving themselves through it. Some time later, an astute gardener had noticed this and, in anticipating a nightmare job further down the track, decided to cut away those branches that were now part of the fence. This act of pruning remains obvious. The trees are pruned hard away from the barrier, while smaller pieces of dead wood form a strange artwork weaving through the fence.
In contrast, a little further on, another college has deliberately grown a plant through the fence. The fence itself is hardly visible, while the tendrils have woven in and out of the structure creating a living boundary. I even watched one young man, coming from the other direction, gently run his hand all the way along the top of it. As he passed, I decided to find out for myself what it felt like. It was a lot softer than it looked and almost tickled your hand.
Away from the demands of everyday life, I was able to be particularly present in these moments and it has caused me to reflect on what we do with those spaces that separate us from one another. They are not easy spaces to inhabit, and dare I say, in some circumstances impossible. But where we are able to meet and examine what separates us or keeps us apart, we are given a choice. We can prune hard, ensuring that we stay well away from the boundary, lest we should meet and influence each other. Or we can find some sort of life, which may look messy to begin with, but eventually overshadows that which divided in the first place.
I am proud to say that the church I belong to has chosen the latter in the last week. We now inhabit a space where most people, in differing ways, will hold some level of discomfort, but we have made the choice to move forward in life and hope. In my view, this is a more contemplative space where we are more able to live with the paradox that life brings. Who knows how it will look in years to come? But I am glad we did not decide to leave the dead wood hanging from the fence.