One of our required classes at school is “introduction to [the theology of] mission and evangelism.” My attitudes about this topic are many, varied, and contradictory… for me, it sweetens the deal to explicitly point out the “theology” part because, well, it’s only twelve weeks. Can’t do much in this arena in twelve weeks.
I haven’t yet shaken my skeptical ambivalence, and I’d hoped to, even though today was only Class Three. I don’t like living in that emotional space. (I don’t like living in the nihilistic despair reading The Watchmen gives me, either, and I’m assigned to do that for this class, too. Sigh.)
What I did gain today was a little delight. Surprise! Prof had us all troop from the classroom building through the drizzle to our chapel, which to me seems a miniature Gothic cathedral as interpreted by loving 1950s persons. In itself, trooping over wasn’t surprising — this prof keeps placing himself into The Iconoclast role, so “disrupting” is usual.
The assignment, too, was framed as another disruption: look at this chapel (most of us are at least 2 years along, so it’s familiar) look at this chapel and — putting yourself in the mindset of someone who isn’t usually in churches much less in here — move over to something you have questions about. After a bit, we’ll discuss.
My surprise was in my delight: look carefully, thoughtfully at something? I’m all in! Defamiliarization is a poet’s home, strength, shield! (Shield, huh? That just came out. Hmmm. Not now.)
Iron to a magnet, I sat below a bas-relief thistle inscribed on the side of a choir-stall pew (aka ‘a bench up by the main cross-wall’ when we eschew jargon). It’s a charming little thistle, stylized and still prickly, like this 21st-century inheritor of a sturdy Scots(-Irish) tradition. The carver managed to sand it satiny within all its stern angles, so that I could run my fingers through it and catch no splinters. I leaned against the arm/side where it hovered, and we rested.
I’m not repeating the things I said about it to my prof and classmates—they were true enough things, but I knew them before I even walked in the chapel. I’m a poet. I know how to look at easy things strangely and strange things easily.
I will tell you that my prof (he’s new to us, and to the campus) was surprised to see Thistle and notice Thistle’s friends on other pews… as, surprisingly, were several of my classmates.
I will tell you that it was delight to spend time with beauty that both stitches me to my faith and to my hard-to-recall ancestors. Delight to just-be next to reminders of my families, no effort required on my part.
Delight doubled to remember to show this to you, too:
see? Isn’t it lovely, incised like this?
Thanks be for small creations that make celebrations of noticing, just noticing and nothing more
unless we want that to also say, unearned-like-God’s-grace!
and even then it’s still just noticing. Entire (whole) in itself, which is always worth celebrating.