The Lines We Draw

I love satellite photos of the earth.  I love to see them in daylight and dark, and to attempt to identify points on the earth that I recognize and have visited.  It’s not easy, because from orbit the land masses flow together.  Mountains and river are discernible, but what is not present in satellite photos—unlike on the maps we draw—are lines

Amazing Earth: Satellite Images from 2019 | NASA

The world map is covered and crisscrossed with lines, arbitrarily dividing that which, from a bird’s-eye point of view, is one whole. Sometimes the line-drawing on the map is the result of conquest, of one people encroaching upon and overwhelming the living space of another.  Other times, as in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, line-drawing is the result of a few men behind closed doors creating new nation states and making often arbitrary but always seismically life-altering decisions for millions of people.  The blithe arrogance of those decisions made in 1919 at Versailles is mind-blowing, and the world is still reeling with the consequences today, both in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe.

The map is not the only place in which we draw lines.  We also draw lines in the proverbial sand, akin to the legendary line William Travis drew at the Alamo.  Lines in the sand are artificial, fabricated “Rubicons,” that declare “No retreat, no surrender.” Perhaps there are rare, actual battles in which such lines are unavoidable, but most often in life such lines create unnecessary division that is sometimes impossible to repair.

Hanukkah: Our Line in the Sand | Andres Spokoiny | The Blogs

Irish author Kerri ní Dochartaigh writes, “We are a race that has long sought to break things up, to divide, to separate, to draw lines between things that otherwise have remained as one.”  Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, and she knows of what she speaks.  Dochartaigh was raised in the midst of “the Troubles,” with one Catholic parent and one Protestant parent, and her formative years were marked by national, religious, ideological, and family division.  She carries in her body and in her psyche the wounds and scars of all those lines. 

Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s writing is a cautionary tale for our own lives, in our own day.  In our society, the lines that divide are drawn in increasingly bold strokes.  Our tone is increasingly unnuanced, binary, strident, and mutually incriminating.  Our tribal identifiers are wielded as barriers to distinguish “us” from “them.”  In her Celtic way, Dochartaigh muses an antidote: “I think so much in these troubled days, about what it might mean to live as the birds do, as the moths and butterflies, as we once did ourselves maybe: free from border and barrier—in a place where the veil is so thin that we are reminded what it means to really be here—in this glorious world.”

Canongate signs Kerri Ní Dochartaigh debut after six-way auction
Kerri ní Dochartaigh

Dochartaigh’s words read almost like a Gospel saying of Jesus, and Jesus would surely agree with her sentiment.  Living in God’s “glorious world” is a gift, and we are called to be stewards of the earth and our relationships with one another.  From God’s vantage point, there are no lines.  The human impulse immediately to circumscribe what is ours and of us—drawing all those lines—may be the sin from which we need the most redemption. 

As witnesses to the world, what might it look like for us to “live as the birds do,” to cross over the lines of suspicion and resentment that seem so indelible in our world but that are, in fact, illusions?  What would it mean for us to step through—boldly and in faith—the thresholds that claim to separate us, and through our movement declare God’s truth that we are one people, one world, that flows forth from the One God who creates in love?  If we have the courage to do so, then, with God’s help, the lines will begin to blur, and we will begin to see the world as God does: as one blessed creation.