Thursday, August 25, 2011

Making All Things New


As a child, I had a rich fantasy life. How it compares to any other kid’s, I can’t say; I’m not any other kid. But it was rich. And varied.

And there was at least one recurring theme. I would imagine going to a junkyard and finding the rusted out body of a car—something that was consigned to destruction and oblivion—and “rescuing” it … sanding off the rust, and slowly adding other junked parts to it, and eventually producing a fully-restored like-new automobile. There was something about that exercise in imagination that deeply touched my soul. (The irony, of course, is that I have NONE of the gifts or aptitudes that would allow me to pursue that fantasy in real life, though I admire and envy those who do.)

According to the gospel that Christians proclaim, my childhood fantasy is a microcosm of God’s project with respect to the human race—and not only the human race, in fact, but all of creation. In the Revelation to St John, God announces, “Behold, I make all things new.” In a word, this is salvation. I’m put in mind of a hymn I sang in my childhood, both text and tune by the Victorian-era evangelical Philip P. Bliss: “Man of Sorrows, what a name / For the Son of God who came / Ruined sinners to reclaim. / Hallelujah! What a Savior!” It’s “ruined” and “reclaim” that get my attention there; reference the fantasy described above.

Too often, I think, believers and non-believers alike (including those who do not yet believe and those who do not believe anymore) have a way too constricted understanding of what salvation is. When I was at the Illinois state fair last week, there was a booth with a sign asking the question, “Are you going to heaven? Take a free two-question test and find out!”  Without disparaging either “heaven” or “going to heaven” (though the latter phrase is too semiotically impoverished to be useful, in my opinion), this barely scratches the surface of salvation. It is, rather, something infinitely grander and more cosmic in scope. At any rate, it’s a lot more poetic.

On our recent vacation, Lady Dragonfly and I spent two nights at the north end of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, in Port Angeles. On the morning of the one full day we were there, we boarded a ferry and rode to Victoria, British Columbia, on the southeast corner of the massive Vancouver Island, for a day trip out of the country. Then we got on a bus that took us to a place called Butchart Gardens, on the edge of the city. We knew next to nothing about the place, other than that there were a lot a flowers there and Brenda’s parents had visited there about 35 years ago and told us we should see it.

The story is actually quite fascinating. Mr Butchart was an entrepreneur in limestone, and he built a home for his family near where he discovered a large limestone deposit, which he intended to quarry. And quarry he did, selling the limestone to concrete manufacturers, and becoming quite wealthy in the process.

As a result, though, a chunk of coastal real estate that was quite lovely in its natural state had become quite … ugly. Picture a huge barren pit of jagged rock, with an odd-looking sort of promontory in the middle of it made of limestone that was subpar for quarrying purposes. This is where Mrs Butchart enters the picture. She’s not happy about this big ugly gaping whole in the middle of her backyard. So she had some of her husband’s employees lower her down the side of the quarry in a boatswain’s chair so she could plant ivy wherever she thought a seed might germinate on the rocky surface.

It worked, and the walls turned green and beautiful. So Jenny Butchart kept on. And kept on, planting a staggering variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees in that quarry … and then in other areas of the estate. The photo at the top of this post is one view of how that quarry looks today. It is a surpassingly beautiful place.

I don’t know what was in Mrs Butchart’s mind as she pursued what became her life’s work. Maybe she was just the right combination of bored and stubborn. But she did, intentionally or not, create a little bit of “heaven on earth,” and if one is invested in “going to heaven,” one could do worse than to go to Butchart Gardens! It is a compelling sign of God’s passionate desire to “reclaim” that which has (those who have) been “ruined.” Within the recent history of that parcel of land, we see the drama of salvation—creation, fall, redemption—writ small, small enough for us to be able to see it, and, in the imagination of our hearts, to project from there, and begin to grasp the scale of what “salvation” is really about.