To Be A Part Of – Pastor’s Reflection (February 19, 2017)
I write to you from San Francisco, where I have snatched a few days of vacation before the annual Council meeting of our Association of Cloistered Nuns. You may remember that I moonlight as their advisor. Yesterday (Sunday) I walked from Union Square through the neighborhoods of the city to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I crossed the bridge to Marin County and walked to the charming, bayside town of Sausalito, from which I retuned to San Francisco by ferry. A head-clearing and a visual banquet all in one!
One of the many delectable courses the walk served up to me was the approach to the bridge. The
pedestrian approaches it by walking alongside the Crissy Field Wetlands and then climbing a wooded hill. The journey yields vista after vista of the bridge in its setting at the majestic break in the coastal hills that gives San Francisco Bay its entrance. What struck me as I walked, and later as I studied the pictures I took, was the essential unity of what I saw. The bridge, as a marvel of human design and construction, has so bonded with the water and hills of the Golden Gate as to become a unified composition.
The bridge does not dominate its setting by excessive monumentality, nor does it detract from it by artless utility of construction. I would go so far as to say that the bridge enhances its place. The advent of the bridge has made the Golden Gate even more of a gate.
No doubt, countless walkers before me have perceived this synergy of art and nature, and a similar
epiphany has come to me walking in Central Park, where I view the architectural ranges on each side as
enhancing the landscape. Where this harmony occurs there is not only beauty but comfort. Both settings visibly uplift thousands of people at a time, and make them feel at home. Neither the Golden Gate Bridge, nor Central Park is content to be gawked at, they both demand to be made use of, for transit, for exercise, for interpersonal conversation, and for personal space.
It strikes me that these two wonders, the park and the bridge, have something to teach me. Their timeless appeal gives them credibility as icons of the good life. They invite me to consider how I relate to my own setting, as a place, and as a landscape of relationships. I ponder that by my demeanor, deportment, or dress I may either detract, overwhelm, or enhance my context. Of course I will not insert myself successfully if I fail to perceive either myself or the context, but I will not even undertake the effort if my goal is not to be part of rather than the center of.
The Golden Gate Bridge does not exist as a monument to a person or an event, its genesis lies in being of service to the human community by addressing a fundamental issue of transportation. It is there and taking up space because it needs to be there for the economy and social connection of the Bay Area and the West Coast. But it remains remarkable because the community expended the resources to meet a need with the artistry and the diligence, indeed sacrifice, of human labor. The art of the bridge does not exceed the purpose of the bridge, but
ennobles it. Commerce and society make crossing the bridge a necessity but by its design the bridge imparts
dignity and beauty to the tasks it enables.
Those who practice ministry, or indeed any public service, sooner or later come to grips with the truth that they are servants of the experience of other people. In the work of the Liturgy, we priests work with many others to serve communal and personal interaction with God, and this truth applies in the public realm of the Mass, and in the intimacy of the confessional.
Over and over again we face the challenge of not making ourselves the point, and of not overwhelming the experience. But the proper response to this challenge is not to be a cypher. We fail in our role if, by pomposity or clownishness, we demand attention, and take it away from the real work of worship. On the other hand we
received a vocation to ordained life so that we might use our God given talents and temperament to serve worship through the synergy we establish with our companions at that moment. Since we are human, and not steel, our engagement with our context will fluctuate from day to day and evolve from year to year.
The one constant, as a demand and as an art, is that one is present as a contributor. This serves God’s
purpose of making our transit through this life noble and beautiful in expectation of what lies upon the other shore.