There is this spot at the camp I love called Vespers Point. It feels holy. It is the place where I have spent countless hours in prayer and contemplation. It is the perfect place to watch the sunrise over the water, making early morning quiet time all the more attractive; it is the perfect place to watch storms roll in; it was even my favourite spot for group ‘camp out’ as a counsellor, where we would sleep under the stars. While this natural space is special to me, it is also special to just about every other person who has ever spent time on the site. The camp is 95 years old and while I worked there, elderly visitors would come by for a walk around and a trip down memory lane. They would reflect on their own special moments at this spot, and other spots and then share about how landscape and buildings had changed. Somehow these strangers quickly felt like family because of our connection to this place where nature, old and new architecture and story collide.
As I was reading about Britain, and London in the Culture Shock! Series, I was struck by how interwoven the past and the present are. Architecture from so many eras is layered within and around each other. “There are few places in the world that offer such an incredible juxtaposition of old and new, handsome and ugly, imposing and humble. A thousand years of history lie beneath the ancient streets, cobblestones, soaring edifices and traffic-snarled byways.” The snippets of poetry within the guide books and the historical narrative pieces are a reminder that these spaces were the site of significant drama and artistic reflection. These aren’t just stories about London, they are stories birthed in London, and set in a London that still exists as one of the many layers. Thus while modern day London is made up of collections of ethnic groups—some refugees, some as migrants —a common connection is to the space.“London is too big, too diverse and too transient a place for any grand, unifying values to take root and prosper. The axes around which a strong sense of group identity or purpose often revolve—religion, politics or family, for example—are infinitely splintered in London.” Thus what becomes unifying is the shared space, and an agreed upon way of occupying that space. Developing a common narrative around the space is also valuable—such as this is the field where ‘we’ won a championship. What happens publicly within these spaces can further unity. In order to contribute to the shared narrative, one must be willing to adopt a low-context communication style given the ever increasing ethnic diversity of the population . While the UK has the highest context communication style due to its lengthy history , I expect that London itself will require relatively explicit communication in order to accommodate the deficit in shared history. Thus order and etiquette communicate respect and civility within the densely populated city.
As with our last trip, I’m keen to hear the stories of how different people occupy space with the intention of inviting the presence and power of God to be more fully realized. Both the spaces and history gain significance when they are infused with personal stories of transformation and calling and testimony to God at work. Just as my faith journey is grounded both in the spiritual realm and in physical spaces, leading these spaces to by more holy for me, so am I intent to stand on the holy ground of the place of my nation’s history.
As I prepare for my visit to London I’m conscious of two things. First, that although I live in a nation considered ‘young’ and with a short history , the land has been inhabited for a long time. There are stories that are being lost carelessly because their importance has been unacknowledged. But these stories of place, told by our First Nations people ought to become a shared history if Canada is to properly recognize her roots. Considering the way stories of space unify a diverse population in London is Illuminative of a local possibility to elevate fading narratives in an effort to achieve greater national unity. Second, that my journey to London is also an excavation of pieces of my nations historical narrative. It is my suspicion that London’s history, stories and architecture have been significantly influential in what Canada has become both in response and rebellion to the ‘motherland.’ In some ways, parts of Canada are the continuing side narrative of a British grand narrative. Understanding where this continuity lies may also help identifying commonalities that might be drawn upon to forge stronger ties across diversity here.
Just as pilgrimage sites offer a shared space and story into which individuals might enter and interweave their own story, so might a common space become a rallying point if shared intentionally. Building relationships across the differences within our neighbourhoods begins with being intentionally present in our neighbourhoods, allowing this common experience bind us to our neighbours. If we layer upon this commonality our experiential stories, the threads of community become woven together into a blanket of interdependence and security. The final addition of a testimony of encountering God in such a place elevates the space to holy ground. It is upon such sites that communal unity is baptized and refreshed.
1. T. Tan, Culture Shock! Britain: A Guide to Customs and Etikette (London: Kuperard, 1992), Kindle, loc 415.
2. Orin Hargraves, Culture Shock! London: Living in the Worldś Great Cities (Times Media Private Limited, 2000), Kindle, loc. 738
3. Orin Hargraves, Culture Shock! London: Living in the Worldś Great Cities (Times Media Private Limited, 2000), Kindle, loc. 951.
4. Erin Meyes, The Culture Map (New York: Public Affairs, 2015), 40.
5. Ibid., 40.
6. Meyer 41.