This morning’s post is written by Gary Heard, pastor of The Eighth Day – A baptist community on the edge of West Melbourne. It was first posted on Gary’s new blog Heard the Whispers which he writes with his wife Ev Heard. Gary and Ev have been part of the international core of Mustard Seed Associates for over many years.
It is reposted this morning as part of the series Creating Sacred Spaces Do We Really Need Churches.
The back yard in my own family home was a battleground where test matches, football finals, and basketball championships were won and lost. Being the youngest in the family, any win was difficult, often requiring perseverance against the odds. Alongside broken windows, damaged fence palings and a dented rubbish bin found one could also discover bruised egos, a heightened sense of injustice, and some heated battles over rules, interpretations and application, some of which were referred to a higher power (parents!)
When invited recently to conduct a wedding in a back yard, I was drawn to reflect upon the significance of such places in forming key aspects of our identity. Most back yards are ordinary places, littered with strategically placed and creatively recycled pieces of furniture, vegetable gardens, trees and plants with a unique ability to conceal a tennis or cricket ball, and knick-knacks collected from holiday spots or favourite nurseries. Although they are closed spaces, back yards are open to the sky, bringing a twin opportunity to ground ourselves in particular relationships and settings, but also to dream of what lies beyond: open to the infinite wonder which the sky represents.
In the back yard I learned about justice. Being the youngest sibling, I was often out-played or outweighed in the rough-and-tumble of backyard matches. I learned to deal with injustice, to rebound when I felt cheated or overwhelmed, developing skills to deal with taller, faster, stronger siblings. These skills impact me to this very day. I certainly knew how far to push, and when it was better to let things go, learning to use my own assets in creative ways when a direct one-on-one contest was too daunting.
But back yards are symbolic of a much richer heritage. In preparing for the wedding service, I reflected upon the ways in which it symbolised a love grounded in the realities of relationships, not only of husband and wife, but wider family and community, affirming that love is planted firmly among family and friends, and grows out of the reality of our daily lives. Back yards are places where ordinary experiences are made ever richer by shared love, recollected through the years in family gatherings. Stories are formed, told and retold in this place, becoming part of our identity. And some threatening drops of rain reminded us all that in the back yard we are also exposed to the elements, requiring us to relinquish some control and enjoy the exploration and randomness which nature – and relationships with family and friends – can often bring.
I recall reclining in the backyard pondering the skies and my place in the universe beneath the wonder of 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 later years I would sit in the back yard with my beloved, sharing dreams and hopes together, pondering imponderables, and simply enjoying each other’s presence. These dreams could be apparently mundane: we can plant this, we can build that… the source of an intimacy built with roots in common dreams, shared values, a mutual spirituality.
Jesus’ parables often have their roots in ordinary places – weddings, gardens, roadsides – because they are the repository where our identity is formed, and our perspective on the greater questions of life are shaped. They are the places where God can be found.
Check out the other posts in the series: