In the Meantime,
I must have mentioned Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall.” If not, the most famous line is one we all recognize: “Good fences make good neighbors.” It means that boundaries are helpful in human relations.
But they are hard. Absent an actual wall, it is difficult to know where they are until you step over them. Frost’s farmers walk their common wall annually to repair it and agree on it, but emotional and ethical boundaries rarely get regular attention.
In our tradition, the concept of covenant is used as a sort of wall that sets boundaries. They come down to us from the New England puritans who are our distant ancestors. In our day they are drawn up between clergy and staff in a church, by governing boards, and ceremonially at least in whole congregations. Their words lay out both positive and negative aspects – what one must do and one must not do.
I have been party to several covenants through my career. Like all agreements, they have to be felt more than signed. It is not the words that make them effective, nor even the idea of a covenant. Even those New England puritans still dealt with rancor, dissent and gossip, notwithstanding the words and ideas they all agreed to. No document can be a good wall unless it is felt by those who create it and mend it regularly.
Being a new year, perhaps a resolution you could consider would be to tend to your boundaries, your wall, your covenant. Is it still working? Does it guide you when times get tough? Does it promote transparency and accountability between you?
That is what mending is about. There is no perfect covenant any more than a perfect wall. All will crumble now and then. All will need improvement. Like those old church buildings out east, so loved by their people, your covenant is what holds you together. Care for it and it will care for you. – FW
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