One of traditional China’s most famous painters was named Ma Yuan, but he was jokingly nicknamed “One Corner Ma” by his thirteenth-century contemporaries.
You can imagine what his typical paintings are like. In one bottom corner is a lovely scene—a lush cliff or waterfall or mountain edge, trees, rocks, and birds. The middle of the painting is bounded by dim silhouettes of leafy trees, and beyond that—a limitless void. Our eyes are led back into the foggy distance, and we move from the material world through the mist into one without substance, into a mystical space that we cannot see.
I wonder whether Ma’s real corner was not the corner filled with trees, but the corner that led into infinity. That’s where he really wanted to take us.
In a way, a good transition period is like Ma’s corner. From here, we can’t see clearly where God is taking us, and we may feel during this transition as if we are moving through mystery, or at least uncertainty. But now you are starting to have your sights on what lies ahead for you, as in that foggy mist where a new rector stands, waiting to be your leader.
But as you strain to see ahead into that mist, I urge you not to lose sight of what lies right in front of you, the little corner where the activity is.
Because to me, what lies beyond for St. Barnabas is the same as what lies here—you, the congregation. St. Barnabas is less a pastoral or program church or whatever model you might name, as it is a “people’s church.”
And St. Barnabas is a Spirit-led church. The little corner of Montgomery called St. Barnabas leads me to look outward and ahead—to the future, to the reign of God, to God’s Beloved Community. In this corner, I see a group giving us the gift of music on Sunday mornings. I see volunteers making meals for their neighbors both known and unknown. And I see people bringing dinners and prayers to your larger church family for whom you so obviously care so deeply.
In other words, life at St. Barnabas is a little like One Corner Ma. Our congregational life is a visible piece of our divine life. Like the foggy mist in Ma’s paintings, the divine realm is usually hidden from us. But sometimes, I think, the mist rolls away just a bit, and we can see snatches of what lies beyond. That snatch will come when you have finally called your new rector by name.
But it will also come today, during a moving hymn or inspiring worship, or an unexpected act of caring, or a deep sense of fulfillment when your ministry lights up somebody’s eyes way over at Findlay Street or in a little newly-built home you helped build for Habitat for Humanity.
When that happens, we’re in Ma’s corner—and beyond, in God’s corner.
I would love to hear your reactions and thoughts! Please respond at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a conversation!