Something that doesn’t love a wall

by Phil Staurseth

Robert Frost, the celebrated American poet, penned these words a hundred years ago in his poem, “Mending Wall.”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

Imagine Frost’s rural New England scene: two neighboring 80-acre plots of land, forested with pine trees on one side and an apple orchard on the other, and dividing these, a rock fence that stretches on and on . . . and which falls apart on an annual basis. Every year, the gaps keep presenting themselves.

No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

And the two neighbors go on mending the wall, even as one of them wonders if the wall is even necessary. We find that the man on the other side of the wall finds comfort in time-worn words borrowed from generations past:

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

And that’s the end of the poem. Yet for me, in reflecting on the Trinity and the mystery of the community that exists in our one God – as well as the Great Commission that pushes believers out into the world, beyond fences, to make friends and disciples – I can’t help but hold onto what I think is Frost’s main thesis: there is something (or perhaps someone) that doesn’t love a wall and wants it down.

The Trinity is a mystery that is never mentioned by name in Scripture, but in which we in the church believe. In Genesis, it is seen as God creates the world, as the spirit hovers over the void, a sort of conversational, creative moment, in which the world is created good. And of course we read in the gospel of John that Christ, too, was there in the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (NASB)

In his epistles, Paul exhorts the folks in Corinthians to live in grace and love and peace, and to even use a sign – to greet each other with “a holy kiss.” Later on, Paul gives the Corinthians a prayerful greeting from all the saints: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” When we reflect on this language of community – about extending grace and love to each other, about living in communion and peace, the sort of peace that comes from God – you get the feeling there are to be no walls in the Corinthian church.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That wants it down.’ […]

As this Corinthian congregation is being encouraged toward greater community, we also get a hint of the mystery behind it all, which is the community of our Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – one God in whom there is perfect community. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ; the love of God, and the fellowship [or peace] of the Holy Spirit.”

One God, yet three persons . . . three but one . . . hard for us to really grasp. Someone has described the trinity as a dance, a dance into which we are invited. I think often we harbor an image of a God being lonely at the moment of creation, as if God needed to create humanity out of loneliness. But I don’t think that was the case. God wasn’t lonely, but is creative and loving. In fact, God is love and so, our God – Father,Son, and Holy Spirit – in perfect community, created the world and us in it, and then invited us to walk with God’s plural self, to join the dance that began somewhere before time.

Many of us are reminded of the history of our part in this dance: oftentimes, a troubled, sordid relationship between God and humanity. A relationship in which we so naturally put up walls of selfishness and stubbornness, of safety and autonomy, where we fail to love either God or neighbor.

And yet, we are reminded that there is something that doesn’t love a wall and wants it down!

Jesus showed up in our world, came near to us, came to be in relationship with humanity, to show us the very image of God. And in doing this, on a cosmic scale, walls began to tumble down and veils between us were torn in two.

With the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the sending of the Spirit, and forming of the church, we receive Jesus’ command, the great commission. This too is about breaking down walls. Go and make disciples. Go and make friends of our communal God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, baptize these new friends into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

You see, fences need to be broken down occasionally...even when it comes to sharing our faith in our community. These walls are our artificial boundaries of people we won’t talk to, the places we won’t go, our fear of “what to say.” Sometimes those walls are handed to us by generations of misunderstanding and selfishness. Or perhaps we’re just plain tired at the end of the day and we want to stay at home with the walls up.

If we’re going to model our life after our Triune God, who is in perfect community, and if we’re going to join the early church in spreading the gospel, then we can’t just keep coming to church and hearing the good news of grace and love and peace, only to leave it within the four walls of our church and our homes.

I’ve been reading a book by a pastor, Brandon Hatmaker, called, Barefoot Church. It is primarily the story of a church imagining what it might look like to move their mission away from gathering and consuming toward loving and serving. He writes:

We may say we’re a church on mission, yet we have so many on-campus programs that our people never have time to live on mission in their neighborhoods. We may say we’re more than just a Sunday service, but 90 percent of our resources and efforts are either committed to the Sunday morning experience or events designed to draw people to our buildings. We may think we serve, but if we took an honest look, we’d find only a small percentage of our people actually serving outside the church. (p.24)

Reminders like this can help us expand our imagination on what it means to be church -- what it means to be us. For Hatmaker, it’s breaking down walls . . . these “brick and mortar” walls . . . as the Church moves out into the world. What would it mean for you to join God’s work of breaking barriers and bringing down walls in your world, your neighborhood?

Frost was asked once about his intended meaning for “Mending Wall.” At the core, he said he simply wanted to do two things: portray two characters well and offer an image of the place. But he went on to say: “I should be sorry if a single one of my poems stopped with either of those things—stopped anywhere in fact. My poems—I should suppose everybody’s poems—are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless.”

As we respond to the Gospel, may we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be tripped by it head first into the boundless love of God for the world. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Phil Staurseth is the pastor of Ravenswood Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois.

See all articles by Phil Staurseth