Yash Enclave is a gated community in a new neighborhood. Inside, the streets are clean, homes are well kept, and there is seldom a honk heard from the cars as they cruise through, stopping to make way for kids riding bicycles, gliding by on rollerblades or chasing after balls.
But you probably won’t be buying a new home there because Yash Enclave is located in north Bangalore, India.
According to an article from India Ink in the New York Times, “Beyond Yash Enclave’s manned gates is India’s urban reality: slums, potholed and traffic-choked roads, piles of garbage on street corners, traffic fumes, and a cacophonous din from the revving motors and incessant honking of the cars, buses and motorcycles.” (http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/at-bangalores-gated-enclaves-the-chaos-outside-comes-knocking-at-the-door/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0)
Ah, the legacy of the Western world.
A friend, explaining her family’s choice to buy a new home in a gated community, tells me that the fact the neighborhood is gated was incidental to their purchasing decision. They bought the house, she says, for its location, its size, its price. It happened to be gated. And I know this family to be good, kind, caring, generous people. They would fling open their doors and invite the homeless to their dinner table any day of the week. Except that they don’t see a lot of homeless people in the streets outside their windows.
And that is the insidious danger of gates and walls and other barriers. In an introduction to Thomas Merton’s writings, the authors of Bridges to Contemplative Living observe that “While few of us consciously choose not to love graciously all that is, we step-by-step seek ways to isolate ourselves and seek a private comfort in gated communities of limited concern” (book four of the series, pg 24).
But the effect of closing ourselves within “gated communities of limited concern” is not just the separation they are; it is the separation they engender in us. We become comfortable with what we don’t know, what we don’t see, what we don’t experience. The sin of the rich man, we remember, was not just that he did not feed poor Lazarus who sat begging outside his gates; he was not even aware of Lazarus’ existence (Luke 16:19-31).
In a sermon preached recently on the Feast Day of St Thomas Aquinas at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Brother James Dennis reminds us that in the time of Thomas Aquinas – 1225 to 1274 – a new understanding was beginning to sweep across the Church.
“The works of Aristotle, long lost in the West, had been recently translated into Latin. Many in the western Church had been openly hostile to this ‘new learning’ because it was clearly pagan. And perhaps because people have ‘itchy ears’ it was widely read and became a prominent philosophy of the time.
“And so, the notion began to swell that there were at least two kinds of truth. There was philosophical truth (or what we might call scientific truth), and then there was biblical truth. And it all depended on your point of view, you see, which you thought made more sense.”
We seem once again to be in a time of two truths – the reality of the society in which we live, and the claim of God on our lives. The fact is, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to leave our gated communities. Our schools, our movie theaters, our malls have become killing fields. After last week’s shooting at the mall in New Jersey, a woman being interviewed on camera said she no longer brings her children to the mall with her. She has four little ones, she explained, and in an emergency she can’t protect all of them.
Against that reality, God still calls us to venture beyond our comfort zones, for the pity of our gated communities of limited concerns is not what we are keeping out but what we are keeping in. We wall ourselves off from knowledge and experiences that are beyond the corner of our vision. We make a hero out of the servant who buried his talent and later returned it safely to his master rather than risk investing it and losing it (Matthew 25:14-30).
We wander in the neighborhoods of our own familiarity – our favorite authors, our go-to comfort Scripture, our friends with whom we Bible study, the same secure church every Sunday morning.
But the safety of the known cannot peacefully co-exist with God’s call to grow in knowledge of him. The spiritual journey will always demand that we step off the easy path and fight our way through the thickets of our fears and disappointments to arrive at the truth he has for our lives. The journey will always beckon us beyond the gates of the comfortable sedation of playing it safe.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,” cries the psalmist, “that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord” (118:19). For the psalmist, as for us, no gate code is needed.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.