Thursday, April 22, 2010

Back yard - Places Where our Stories are Formed

The back yard of a family home is a place filled with memories. When conducting a wedding recently in such a setting, I was drawn to reflect on the ways in which certain places impact our spirituality, our identity, and our journey in life. The choice of a back yard for a wedding potentially symbolises a love grounded in the realities of relationships, not only that of husband and wife, but the wider family and community, recognising that love is planted firmly among family and friends, and grows out of the reality of our daily lives. It is a place where ordinary experiences are made ever richer by shared love, and shared in subsequent years as the family gathers again. But in the back yard we are reminded that love is also open to the sky… a place where friendship can take wings in love; which opens up enormous possibilities together. But in the back yard we are also exposed to the elements, requiring us to let go of some control and enjoying the exploration and randomness which nature can often bring, and which relationships with family and friends can often bring.

Back yards are rich and creative places: Walk around most back yards and you will see very creative use of often discarded materials: they are living testaments to recycling. Back yards are also collections of family stories, each place bearing a memory on which life has been built. Most of us build our lives and values on recycling these values – in at least two ways.

The first aspect of recycling grows out of the reminder that it is out of old materials new things can come. Marriage is a setting where most recycling occurs – we sift through the gifts that our parents have given us, the values they have sown within us, the example they have set us. We have to learn from them, share them with our partner, then present them to our children, to our own friends and community, who will do the same. In fact, well before we come to marriage, we have spent our late adolescent years sifting the values which our parents have spoken to us about, and lived before us (the two not always consonant) as we begin to shape our own selves more intentionally.

When conflict arises in a relationship, we sift through it and pick out the lessons so that we understand ourselves and each other better, and learn to move forward together in love. Occasionally we have to clean up the back yard – go through and throw out that which now stands in the way, and create some new spaces. Married couples are still two very different people, and if handled well these differences can be the source of strength and creativity.

For me, the back yard was a place where I learned something about justice. Being the youngest in the family, I was often out-played or outweighed when it came to the rough-and-tumble of back yard matches. I learned to respond to apparent injustice, to rebound when I felt cheated or overwhelmed. I learned my own skills to deal with taller, faster, stronger siblings. I am sure that these skills have impacted me to this very day. I certainly knew how far to push, and when it was better to let things go. I learned to use my own assets in creative ways when a direct one-on-one contest was too daunting.

Back yards are also closed spaces. There are times when you can just chill out the back – away from the phone, from the front door, from neighbours. Here in the back yard it is your space. I remember times sitting in the back yard pondering the skies and my place in the universe, or the wonder of the myriad stars so far from the earth, illuminating the skies. Looking into history – for the light I could see twinkling left its source many years before – I pondered perspective and the bigger questions of life. And in more mature years I would sit in the back yard with my beloved, and share dreams and hopes together, pondering imponderables, and simply enjoying each other’s presence. These dreams could be something apparently mundane: we can plant this, we can build that… but the intimacy to be built finds its roots in common dreams, shared values, a mutual spirituality – the essence of all that we consider life to be about, and what we yearn to build for yourselves and for those we love. In our marriage relationship, it is this intimacy which moves into the kitchen, the family room, and the bedroom – where a real one-ness is shared – body, soul and spirit. Such places of intimacy need to be nurtured in our spirituality, in our marriages, and in other relationships.

There are many other ways in which we find our shape in the back yard. They are social spaces – places where you share with others, and they with you – around the barbecue, talking about the garden, and just getting outside to think in a quiet space; they are places where we experiment (I well remember almost burning down the family garage), and where we begin to build bridges with strangers (kicking or hitting a ball over the fence meant an introduction was necessary to retrieve it); they are places where our horizons are broadened with family, friends and acquaintances.

Many memories – stories – which shape who we are, how we perceive the world, and our capacities to create within it. Here is a place where the ultimate breaks into the penultimate; where our perceptions of life, love and God find their roots. It is arguably one of the most important places where our lives are shaped.

No comments: