A few years ago, my daughter Katie and I traveled to the Catalan region of Spain with her godparents, my dear friends Joe and Joanie. The trip was a gift from Joe and Joanie for Katie’s graduation We spent most of our time in Barcelona, but we also took a side trip to Girona and Figueres.
Girona, in particular, is fascinating. Founded in 79 AD, Girona has been defended (and conquered) repeatedly, primarily due to its strategic location along major thoroughfares in the Roman, Moorish, and Holy Roman Empires. Walls have been crucial to the town safety, and there are a series of them built across the centuries as the town grew. Walking along Girona’s cobbled streets, which are themselves works of art, you can observe walls that are 1500 years old, a beloved reminder to the people of this town of their resilience.
In some places, gaps are visible between the stones. In some of the bigger walls, artists have 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 particular atlas appears like he is trying to resume his position holding up the wall above him. Yet, he is no more than 6 inches tall in the middle of a wall that soaring over twenty feet high. But what we noticed most was how he is perfectly positioned for the gap he is in, symbolizing resilience and initiative.
By the 12th century, Girona had attracted a thriving Jewish population living in a segregated part of the town, as was common. Our guide took us to a former residence, 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. As you may know, a mezuzah is a container holding a tiny piece of parchment on which is written the prayer known as Shema Yisrael from the Book of Deuteronomy. Jews touch the mezuzah when entering the doorway to honor the commandment to worship God as One. Our guide explained that mezuzahs throughout the quarter had been ruthlessly removed when the Jews were forced to convert or be exiled in 1492. Thus, this niche is 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 Girona, 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 see 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 is, that vine and the life it represented were determined to find a way, and find a way they have.
Thus, we saw three kinds of gaps: one that is the better for being joyfully and playfully filled; one that was once been filled but now testifies to and lamented an absence; and one that makes visible a gap and an opportunity for growth that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Since the pandemic began, and continues, sometimes all we can see is gaps. Other times, we walk right past the gaps 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 parishes, and, frankly, in every area of life.
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 might you seek out new ways to fill the gaps, and make your parish, and her mission beyond her walls, stronger than ever?
Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers, meditations, and sermons at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.