Something There Is That Doesn’t Love a Wall
by Pastor George Van Alstine
“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.”
Robert Frost, in his beautiful poem “Mending Wall,” describes the inevitable undoing of man-made stone walls around traditional New England pastures. As soon as humans repair the gaps, the forces of nature go to work to create breaks in other sections of the wall. Though the walls may have been first constructed to keep a flock of sheep in, Frost makes the point that they also serve to keep other people out, for (he says twice in the poem) “good fences make good neighbors.”
I think we might turn Frost’s perspective around and see the situation from nature’s point of view. Here is a natural meadow, covering several acres of a valley, along a brook. Humans have decided to divide the meadow by establishing artificial property lines, marking them with low stone walls. Nature slowly but surely dismantles these walls, stone by stone, using forces such as freezing and thawing, falling tree limbs, flowing water during heavy rains. But here come the humans again, picking up stones that have fallen out of place and closing the gaps. Don’t these humans know the walls aren’t natural? Why do they keep trying to reinforce them?
Frost began his poem with the delicious understatement
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
Nature might rewrite the line
“Something there is that keeps building unnatural walls.”
What is it in us that wants to wall other people out, keeping them from fully knowing us, or fully loving us? Why do we keep repairing gaps, after moments of openness, sharing, vulnerability? Why do many marriages exist only by a tacit mutual agreement not to talk about certain things? Why do races, classes and nationalities work so hard at repairing the walls between them by reinforcing ancient prejudices and values?
Sad as this is, it’s even more tragic that we keep building and rebuilding a wall between us and the God who loves us and wants to fellowship with us. Jesus stood on a hill near Jerusalem and lamented the long history of God’s attempts to embrace his people:
“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
The Old Testament is a story about God repeatedly taking down stones of separation, and his chosen people putting them back to restore their wall of isolation. What they considered to be their protection was really their prison of lostness.
And what would Jesus say as he reviews your life? How often has he tried to mother you under his wings, and you refused, pulling away, feverishly piling stones to repair the wall?
If you pile these stones high enough, they will become your spiritual tomb.