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Like a ring of bright water: what is the Church like?

That's strange!

"What on earth are you talking about?" asked Linda.

"This unidentified flying object floating on the lake," I answered.

"You mean a spaceship on pontoons? Sometimes I really wonder about your imagination." Linda left her morning coffee to join me at the window.

We both peered out into the summer morning sunlight. Sure enough, what we saw was a ring with sparkling lights glinting through windows all around its extremity. It looked like a flying saucer floating on the water. "See, I told ya," I chimed back with certain glee.

Linda stared at the ring floating down Lac La Hache. "That's not a flying saucer," she said. "It's some kind of animal. In fact, it's more than one."

"It doesn't look like any animal I've ever seen. If it's not a flying saucer, it's gotta be some kind of huge diamond ring. It's perfectly round and the sun is glinting off diamonds set all around the ring." My imagination was about to speed-shift into overdrive. However, before I could start hypothesizing, Linda ruined everything and went after the binoculars.

"It's a ring of otters!" Linda exclaimed. "Awww, look at them. It's just like in the book Ring of Bright Water."

When we looked through the binoculars, we could see a family of otters with all the adults, about five of them, lying on their backs in a perfect circle. Every so often, an adult would dive down in the centre of the ring and come up with a small fish or a freshwater mussel. After the successful hunt, it would find its place in the circle and put the food on its stomach to clean and prepare it for dining.

Meanwhile, in the centre of the circle, there were several young otters. They were totally engrossed in playing, diving and splashing. Droplets of water from their playing caught the morning sunlight, glistening like diamonds. Every so often, one of the young otters approached one of the adults in the outer circle and received a piece of food.

From the deck, we could hear that this ring of bright water was anything but silent. A background of chuckling, blowing and cooing seemed to give the whole thing an aura of song and contentment. We also noticed the ring exuded a sense of providence and security. Not only was the ring a centre for food procurement and sharing, but there was something about it that seemed to tell the eagles, ever-roosting on the old dead snag on the island opposite our house, that this group of animals was not to be messed with. Normally, these predatory eagles would swoop from their roost to investigate whatever looked vulnerable, either on the lake or on the shoreline. However, even though the eagles were perched at battle stations this morning, they didn't show the slightest interest in the ring of bright water.

Much of the rest of the morning was consumed by the ring of bright water as it was moved slowly down the lake by a gentle breeze. It was so fascinating that, when it eventually drifted from our view, Linda and I were tempted to get into the Chestnut canoe and sneak along the shore to continue our observations. That we did not succumb to temptation was due to a house church meeting at Nazko, three hours drive to the north.

The afternoon drive, much of it in the silence of friendship, was time for processing the observations of the morning. As so often happens when I contemplate nature, my thoughts took the morning's observations for a wander through Scripture.

Scripture is full of words and metaphors that describe the church or a people of God. There is the Apostle Paul's metaphor "Body of Christ." There are word pictures in the Hebrew Scriptures: "my people" and "house of Israel." The list is extensive in both testaments, each word picture or metaphor conveying something rich in terms of people's relationships to each other and to their God. After spending the morning watching the otters, and the afternoon taking the otter experience into Scripture, I could not help thinking in parable about the Church.

What is the Church like? What metaphor could help us appreciate it? The Church is like a ring of bright water, a family of otters. The ring is formed by the mature and wise. By experience, they know what is dangerous and how to provide care. They form the ring for protection and nurture and to define a space for the younger and less experienced to be free to play and to learn. Those of the outer circle provide nurture and teaching. Those of the inner circle provide freedom, in thought and action, that brings joy and beauty to all as the sun turns the splashing of their exuberant energy into the likes of diamonds.

The ring of bright water is formed in the water. It is the medium by which each otter finds its way into the ring. Although the water is not the ring, it is crucial for its formation. What is the Church like? It is like a ring of bright water.

David Webber is a minister of the Cariboo Presbyterian Church, a house church ministry in the Cariboo district of British Columbia.
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Author:Webber, David
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Jul 1, 1999
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