A few years ago, my daughter Katie and I traveled to the Catalan region of Spain with my dear friends Joe and Joanie, her godparents, as a gift from them for her graduation. We spent most of our time in Barcelona, but we also took a day trip to Girona and Figueres. Girona, in particular, was fascinating. Founded in 79 AD, it had been defended (and conquered) repeatedly due to its strategic location along major thoroughfares in the Roman, Moorish, and Holy Roman Empires and beyond. Walls thus became very important in keeping the town safe, and there were a series of walls built throughout the centuries as the town needed to expand its footprint as it grew. Walking along its cobbled streets, which were themselves works of art, you could see walls that were 1500 years old. They were a beloved reminder to the people of this town of their resilience. In some places, gaps were visible between the stones. In some of the bigger ones, artists created small figurines like the one above-- carved like an atlas (a support column carved in the shape of a man common in Greco-Roman architecture) in a charming show of whimsy. This atlas appeared as though he was trying to resume his position holding up the wall above him. And yet he was only about 6 inches high, in the midst of a wall that soared twenty feet high or more. But what we noticed was how he was perfectly positioned for the gap he was in, symbolizing resilience and initiative.
By the 12th century, Girona had attracted a thriving Jewish population, who lived in a segregated part of the town, as was common. Our guide took us to a former residence there, and as she spoke, we noticed another niche in the doorway just higher than our guide's head. This was the slot carved into the stone where the mezuzah had been. A mezuzah is a container holding a tiny piece of parchment that contains the prayer known as Shema Yisrael from the Book of Deuteronomy. Jewish people touch the mezuzah and the Torah portion within when entering the doorway as a way of remembering their adherence to the commandment to worship God as One. The guide explained the mezuzahs throughout the quarter had been ruthlessly removed when the Jews were forced to convert or be exiled in 1492. Thus, this niche was noteworthy by its emptiness, reminding us of people who HAD lived here, but who were ultimately unwelcome. And although recently, a few Jews have returned to the town, their presence will forever be changed within that community, but they look forward to the future.
When we entered the Old Town square, we had much to think about, and as we came through the dividing wall, I happened to look up and saw a surprise. A flowing vine had established itself between the minutest of crevices in the doorway casing, and protruded out about a foot, flaunting one lone flower at its end that swayed and danced in the breeze. As tight as the stone work was, that vine and the life it represented was determined to find a way, and find a way it did.
Thus, we had seen three kinds of gaps: one that was the better for being joyfully and playfully filled; one that had once been filled but now testified to and lamented an absence; and one that made visible a gap and an opportunity for growth that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Since this pandemic began, and as it continues, sometimes all we can see is the gaps. Other times, we walk right past them without noticing. I want to suggest to you that, especially during these last 18 months, we have been presented with all three of these kinds of gaps in our common life at St. Martin's, and, frankly, in every area of our lives, if we think about it. Where have you filled some gaps in your life with something playful or joyful, something meant to bring a smile to the faces of those who come after you? (And if you haven't, it's never too late to start or too small a thing to make a difference.) Where have you mourned a new gap in your life? Perhaps it was the loss of being able to be with friends and family; perhaps it is even the loss of a loved one who has died. Perhaps it was a job. Perhaps it is suddenly being able to worship only online, and the continued reminder of how much you miss being in person with friends and family. How have you sought to acknowledge that gap, honor it, and open yourself to the possibility of hope and comfort? Where have you found new opportunities in your life for growth and change, new opportunities to lend a hand and help others? Where have you sought new life, new habits, new flourishing in your spiritual practices? There are unseen opportunities all around us. Even in the midst of uncertainty, and change, and absence, there are all opportunities for reflection, for growth, for action as well. We have the magnificent opportunity to grow together as a community in Christ, stronger than before-- if we are all eager to be mindful of the gaps and seek to fill them. There are new needs that this pandemic has exposed, and new ways of being the Church and disciples in the world for which the world is crying out. And it all starts with each and every one of us seeing --and seizing-- the new niches we can fill for the glory of God, for the love of neighbor, and for the testimony to the love of Christ and his gospel of love in a hurting world. Faithful disciples are called to proclaim a gospel of hope and of faithfulness, and that is more needed now than ever. How can you seek out new ways to fill the gaps, and make St. Martin's, and her mission beyond her walls, stronger than ever?
7th week after Pentecost