My wife walked into our dining room the other day to discover a tiny bat clinging to the curtain, suddenly finding itself the centre of attention and a cause of great excitement, even though it was sound asleep. How this nocturnal mammal came to be overseeing our repasts was a quandary. Seemingly it made its way down the chimney in the night and found itself trapped, finally retiring behind the curtain. It was somewhat disconcerting to find the outside world breaching the walls we have constructed to create safe space for us. At the same time we were captivated by its intricate, black-velveted beauty, leaving it water and fruit in an effort to ensure its wellbeing.
When wildlife rescue came to liberate the bat and return it to its natural habitat, identifying it as a microbat (which didn’t eat fruit), we were somewhat deflated to see the adventure come to an end. When we settled to normality, I began to reflect on the barriers we construct and the costs they bring to our lives. It is important to have walls to retreat behind when we need to recuperate from the day’s events, or simply to share intimate time with those closest to us, but how far do we really need to extend this? When I drive my car I am relatively cut off from the world, unlike public transport where chance encounters with friends and strangers might enrich my day. If I watch sport in the privacy of my lounge, my view of the game may be better, but the experience of the crowd is mitigated. Jogging through the streets helps my physical fitness and keeps me in touch with the community in which I live and work whereas a treadmill keeps me isolated.
I lament that private spaces have been multiplied and public spaces have become more specialised and tightly controlled. The random nature of life is herded into smaller and more isolated spheres with the result that genuine interaction with the community is a diminishing if not lost art. It can be easy to avoid people who might challenge my thinking or my living, or those who might stimulate me to explore other ways of being and doing.
As we approach Holy Week, we near that moment when Jesus rejected the appeal of His disciples to retreat to safe places, instead heading into Jerusalem. He would leave private space and enter the Garden of Gethsemane where he would pray (talk with God in the public space) and ultimately be arrested. What ensued makes our kerfuffle with the bat seem trivial. Yet that little bat reminds me that it is important to not let those walls becomes barriers to growth or to encounters with the unexpected.
April 17, 2011
NB: this reflection was published in the Sunday Age on April 17, 2011
Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.