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Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones?

stumbling blocks or stepping stones?When I was five years old I had the opportunity to accompany my dad as he went to visit a family in our community of Iqaluit, NU. During this visit I came face to face with poverty and generosity in a profound way. The family lived in a small one room home, that had a heater on one side of the room, and a mattress on the floor. There were two children, aged six and two. While my dad chatted with parents, I played with the six year old. I was amazed when this boy opened up a box of Ritz Crackers and offered me one.  I have never forgotten this act of generosity in a place of poverty.

In the years since, I have witnessed poverty and generosity in various ways. Many times these aspects have not been as close to my daily existence. They have been in headlines, in documentaries, in anecdotes offered by friends and acquaintances.  I have prayed for generosity, and I have prayed for those shackled in poverty. With each passing year, I see greater acts of generosity, and this warms my heart. Lives are changed and communities are restored with great acts of sacrifice and love. With each year though, I see even greater examples of poverty. News headlines, tweets, and media coverage announce with greater efficiency the effects of a world that is unbalanced. There is a great divergence between those who have much, and those who have nothing.

This small example from my childhood helped me to realize that the actions and nature of the heart are not limited to wealth and standing. It seems that when persons are in positions of peril, or understand positions of peril, they can respond with greater ease. Over the past years I have seen great response to tragedy on both the local and the global stage.

The events of 911, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, Haiti, Juan, the Arab Spring, Sandy, Haiyan, plus numerous families and individuals have been responded to in various ways with respect to tragedy, poverty, abuse, disaster, and death. Each of these situations is different; each has need for the individual and the wider community to respond.

At times I feel as if I am standing on one side of a vast river, unable to cross the divide, for with each tragedy and dilemma, there seems to be fourteen more, as this world gets ever smaller. Will my prayer and my donations make a difference? Will nothing change in the world? Will this cycle continue to play out throughout human existence?

I am strengthened in my resolve that I am not alone. As I walk within the community of faith, within the community of the world, I am blessed that God walks with me. I am reminded that though the waters are deep, and the winds and current may be strong, the river can be crossed. I take comfort in the words of the hymn writers John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community:

Ah God, you with the Maker’s eye,
Can tell if all that’s feared is real,
And see if life is more than what
We suffer, dread, despise, and feel.
If some by faith no longer stand
Nor hear the truth your voice intones,
Stretch out your hand to help your folk
From stumbling blocks to stepping stones.
(Tune Mary Morrison or Ye Banks and Braes)
1989 The Iona Community, GIA Publications, Inc.

The actions we undertake as the community of faith are not futile, nor self serving. When we engage in prayer and action, the barriers we may perceive can help us in fact, to move through the calamity and claim our place in God’s world, as we partner with God to address the states and situations that cause us grief and terror.

I pray I continue to address all aspects of poverty and tragedy I encounter. I pray I remain open to generosity and the presence of the Spirit.

David Burrows

About David Burrows

David Burrows is a priest of the church, currently serving in parish ministry within the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, a place he has called home for the past fifteen years. He consistently engages dialogue and action with the wider community through creative outreach projects. Cycling, kayaking, writing, and driving fast cars are distractions in his life.
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