This week I find myself engaged in several related activities. To mention two at a time: I am preparing to preach on the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2) while also packing for our move from the nation of Canada back to the United States. (The movers arrive on Monday.) Living here in Toronto has given me a preview of the “great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) Leaving here brings tears to my eyes, even as simultaneously I feel the joy of God’s call to Covenant CRC in Sioux Center, Iowa.
As John, the seer-author of Revelation, describe God’s new creation, he sees nations and their leaders bringing their glory into the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:24) And as I consider the “glory and the honour of the nations” (Revelation 21:26) as I’ve experienced them in Canada, I find myself pondering gifts I have received from Canadians such as Joni Mitchell (happy birthday yesterday!) and Charles Taylor. The singer-songwriter and the philosopher-professor somehow come together in my mind to open it further to God.
When I was in Grade 10, Joni Mitchell taught me to look “at both sides now.” I bought her album “Clouds” because the music enchanted me, and then her lyrics in the title song took an almost creedal place in my thinking. For example, in my World History class, we studied what we now call World War I. Before doing any reading, I thought I knew already who were the good guys and who where the bad guys. But Joni and my teacher (Mr. Hall) taught me to look at both sides. I don’t remember putting it this way in my term paper, but I began to learn that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) When we pray for peace among the nations at 11 AM during our November 11 worship, we can have that truth in mind, and we can plead for grace as a gift for all.
Charles Taylor also teaches me to look at both sides now, and his immense learning can make me feel like the final line in Joni’s song: “I really don’t know life at all.” But Taylor does not leave me in agnosticism; instead, he offers me an ongoing conversion to the fullness of God’s Presence. For example, early in his masterpiece, A Secular Age, he passes on an excerpt from the autobiography of Bede Griffiths, who, as schoolboy encountered God through the testimony of hawthorn trees in bloom, a sunset, and the song of a lark. Bede writes that as dusk descended, he experienced such awe that he “felt inclined to kneel on the ground.” He adds, “I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God.” (Quoted in A Secular Age, p. 5)
Joni Mitchell and Charles Taylor lead me into further dialogue with other Canadian artists and saints such as Leonard Cohen and Jean Vanier. And even more, they help me express the even greater glory of knowing personally the Canadians I have come to love. As I prepare to leave, I realize that I have so much to learn, I really don’t know Canada or you at all. And yet, in your face I have seen the face of God, for which I give thanks forever and ever. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” (Revelation 22:21)