lenten journal: walls


We’ve had two absolutely glorious days in a row here in Durham. The mornings have had a bit of a chill, but not a 20110311-tsunami-w_2162733kserious one. Instead, they have quickly given way to the kind warmth of an early spring day — one that knows you need to feel the sun but are not yet ready for the weight of summer. The sky was the kind of blue that makes you believe hope is a color, running from one horizon to another with hardly a wisp of cloud to contest its resonance. It must have been a day like today when the Psalmist wrote, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” More than glad, I have felt joyful as though each breath wanted to stretch my lungs and increase my capacity to take in all that was being offered.

On the way to work this morning, I was reminded by the good folks at NPR that today marks the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that was so devastating to the people of Japan. I don’t imagine there were many that day who have found much comfort singing

all nature sings and ‘round me rings
the music of the spheres . . .

Though I am grateful for our gorgeous day, I’m also aware that holding the creative tension between perfect day and powerful destruction calls for theological reflection in much the same way that reading Niebuhr did for me the other night because to look for God in one is to be challenged to find God in the other. And God is in both, not as instigator but as presence, as Love.

The NPR story talked about some of the security measures being taken in light of the devastating storm. At least two cities were building giant sea walls — over seventeen feet high — along the coastline to stop the possibility of a repeat performance, which means beaches will be blocked, along with the chance for the people to just see the ocean on the beautiful days. Looking at photographs like the one above makes me wonder if the sea wall would make any actual difference. For now, the government seems determined to do something that shows they did something.

Robert Frost wrote in “Mending Wall”

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.

He was talking about a neighbor who came out each spring to rebuild the wall between them that winter had dismantled. Frost wondered aloud why the man thought a wall was an answer to anything. The best stories from Japan, or anywhere else acquainted with grief, are those of people taking care of one another. Those are the bonds that will hold against the storm long after the concrete has collapsed.

I suppose it is easy for me to talk in tsunamic metaphor since I spent my day in the sun and the sun doesn’t shine here everyday. A two-story wall may keep away the water, but won’t it also keep away the stories of walks on the beach, or what washed up on the shore, of sunshiny days?

I don’t want to miss the sunshine.



  1. Milton, what a beautiful entry. This evening we started our Lenten study of your book at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth. For the next 5 Wednesdays all of us are going to have a wonderful time “at the table” with you and your beautiful writings and insights.

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