Artist's Lane: A view from the top


By Betty Slade

PREVIEW Columnist

We are living in a time when walls of division, disruption and distraction are appearing all around us. They have likely always been there; we just see them bigger and more solid than before. 

Some are made to keep us in, while others are there to keep us out. What used to be for personal safety now confines anxiety and memorializes pride. Constructed as a center line between the left and the right, or as a quarantine zone for religious dogma. What was once built as a demarcation of fact now marks the anomalous and perceived.

I take a day trip to see my family every summer. They own a cabin at the top of Cumbres Pass. As if left untouched by time, we can see the Toltec Railroad in the near distance. From the wrap-around porch, we can imagine a time much harder than today, but less complicated, to be sure. 

My family consists of many cousins and an only living aunt. Our kitchen table talk? Stories from the homestead. When a train ride down the mountain to sell milk and eggs meant buying fabric for clothes or oil for lamps. 

We love and care for each other, something that has been passed down throughout the generations. But our lineage is not seamless. My family members have a different theology than I do, which has created an invisible wall. It’s a partition that creates a certain restriction in any conversation.

We are all very passionate about our faith and how we worship God. To the casual observer, one would think we were perfectly aligned. Although we speak a similar language, our belief is not the same. 

There is a barrier between us, something we have learned to silently agree to let be. After our visit, we always make plans to see each other again. After all, we are still family. 

This year’s trip atop the mountain was just as the times before. We laughed about Uncle Donald antics and marveled over Grandma Jesse’s cooking. But to my surprise, the invisible wall of difference began to fall. There was a common concern and cry in all our hearts. Nothing we talked about seemed to be more important than the people of our nation and those we love.

When we were ready to leave, we prayed together and became united in our resolve. We experienced being one in heart and spirit for the first time since I left my family’s church at the age of 18.

The next day, I asked my Sweet Al what he thought about the visit and if he felt a difference. I said, “I feel like we folded our cards.”

“What do you mean?”

“We have always concealed a part of ourselves from each other, because we knew where the boundary lay. This last visit, we looked beyond that boundary, and came together in prayer for a singular purpose — to let what is, be, and to seek wisdom for what we do not understand.” 

The subject of walls brought me back to a story in the scriptures — a skipping gazelle, an allegory of King Solomon and the Shulamite girl.

The voice of the beloved, like a gazelle leaping upon the mountain and gazing through the lattice on the wall. He called, “Come away with me. The winter is past and the voice of the turtledove is heard in the land.” -— Song of Solomon 2:8 (NJK).

She refused and turned him away, “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, turn my Beloved, and be like a gazelle upon the mountains of Separation.”

Final brushstroke: There will always be walls of some measure on earth. Even those that have been pulled down can still cast a shadow. But if we follow the path of the gazelle, a symbol for the resurrected Jesus, we will see things from a vantage point that levels the height of anything that separates us, only serving to outline those things that define us. 

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