Walls

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It is an old proverb, which embodies an agrarian respect for one’s fellows and their rights of property. But Frost was not providing guidance to his readers when he included the line in his poem, “Mending Wall.” He began the poem, in fact, by saying, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” And, later, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense. / Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That wants it down.”

Walls were a malady that Frost may have recognized a bit earlier than other students of our culture. He wrote his poem in the early years of the last century, at a time when walls, trenches and lines of muddy men were being constructed, shifted and obliterated across large parts of Europe. He wrote his poem before people had read Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, Sartre’s play No Exit (“Hell is other people”), and before most people knew of Marx’s theory of alienation. But he described things that most folks could feel, whether or not they put a name to them – our apprehensions about getting close to others; our desire, nonetheless, to be close to other human beings; and the fear that this might not be possible.

The 13th-century Persian mystic poet, Mowlana Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, known in the West as Rumi, told the story of Moses admonishing a simple shepherd who he thought had spoken too familiarly to the unapproachable Almighty. God, in Rumi’s tale, chides Moses, saying, “What really matters is to stay connected …you have come in order to connect.” Readers of Howard’s End, the wonderful novel by E.M. Forster, if they retain anything at all from that book written some seven hundred years after Rumi’s birth, remember two words: “Only connect.” Dr. M. Scott Peck points out, “The word religion comes from the Latin religio, [one meaning of which is] ‘to connect’.”

The theme for this issue of In Communion is “walls.” If religion is about connecting, writing is another way to make connections, to be in communion with others. Our authors have written about walls that keep groups apart and walls that are meant to protect. Physical walls of steel and stone, and walls that exist only in our feelings or attitudes. What is peacemaking, really, but finding ways to build bridges instead of walls?

- Alexander Patico, guest editor

From the Winter 2008 issue of In Communion / IC 48