What comes to mind when you hear the word “Edge”?
In a general sense an edge is the extreme border or point of anything; the edge of a cliff, the edge of the table; the edge of cloth. An edge is particularly applied to the sharp border, the thin cutting extremity of an instrument, as in the edge of an axe, razor, knife or sword. Figuratively, it can refer to that which cuts or penetrates wounds or injures, the edge of slander. Edges are not always comfortable places and at times they are disturbing places. Many of us are fearful of cliff edges. We speak of setting our teeth on edge or being taken to the edge of our patience.
Edge can also refer to sharpness of mind; keenness; intenseness of desire; fitness for action or operation; as in the edge of hunger. Edge can be verb, one might edge or sharpen a blade, or furnish something with a border or decorative edge. Yet again to edge can imply tentativeness as one moves sideways; to move little by little; to edge along. Edge also refers to dominance and superiority, such as leading or winning edge.
Synonyms for edge include: boundary, brim, brink, circumference, crust, extremity, frame, fringe, frontier, hem, kerb, ledge, limit, line, lip, margin, outskirt, peak, perimeter, periphery, point, rim, shore, side, threshold, tip, trimming, verge. Each of these synonyms has a different nuance.
I notice how adjectives alongside edge can change their sense: harsh edge, or soft edge; protective edge or decorative edge.
Today I am inviting us to look at edges through 3 lenses: Protective Edges, Growing Edges and Prophetic Edges. And to do so possibly in three domains: the edges in the world, in our communities, in ourselves.
On Saturdays I attend a breakfast for those who many would describe as living on the edge, in the margins or among the fringes. People who are rough sleepers, live with mental health or chronic physical health concerns, people who live in boarding houses, are socially isolated or recently released from jail. It could be described as a community of “all sorts”. As I reflect upon my time there, I notice that I encounter several edges.
I, we, need to attend to protective edges. To be intentional about setting, adhering to and occasionally being flexible with boundaries, to protect all, be they guests, volunteers, hosts or myself. The doors to the crypt of the Church open about 5am, but the chief cooks and bottle washers arrive about 3:30 or 4:00am. I know that I cannot get up that early without wiping out my weekend. So, I commit to arriving about 5:30am. That is just one protective edge. Another protective edge is not giving money to the guests for to do so would jeopardise the protective edges of all the volunteers.
In our personal and professional lives, we have various boundaries, self-care strategies and spiritual practices that protect our edges. Taking this time of retreat may be one of them for you. Today may also be an opportunity for you to revisit your protective boundaries and explore if they are offering you what you need at this time. Has COVID required you to adjust your protective boundaries?
Then there are growing edges beckoning, inviting me to go beyond the edge that has been comfortable, protective, and possibly even stifling. At the Saturday breakfast I notice some new person sitting alone while at another table are people I have sat alongside and enjoyed their company for some months now. I am tentative as I approach the oddly dressed woman or the man chatting incessantly to himself. Yet the words of Gary Smith beckoned me forth:
“…many individuals, I think, are driven to talking to themselves and to the mannequins of their lives, because no one around them listens to them or cares about them. They are not mentally ill, they are just lonely. Some folk connect more with cockroaches, mice, cats dogs, birds and plants in their SRO (single room occupancy hotels) rooms than they do with other human beings. This is not so much by choice, as it is as a result of the poison of human disregard.” Gary Smith. Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor. p28
Every time we move beyond our comfort zone in life we are living at our edge. This growing edge is the place where our open heart meets fear head on, yet we chose to step out. That’s where the Divine invitation is and spiritual growth happens.
When we face fear, self-doubt, change, and anxiety with an open heart, when we expand instead of contract, we move beyond our comfort zone and we grow albeit at times incrementally. We can stay away from our growing edge because of fear- fear of failure or even fear of success. When we approach our edges, we feel a sense of insecurity, fear. There is a tendency to pull back and even to stop trying. But the place of growth invites us to go beyond, even if it is to go little by little and “edge” our way. Despite the uncertainty, the discomfort, the vulnerability and the fragility, when we trust the invitation, we may also recognise that it is at these growing edges that we are most alive.
Approaching our growing edge often feels a little like stepping off the edge of the world no matter how many times you do it. Often these edges invite us into liminal space – where we are betwixt and between, having left one stage of life, or way of seeing things, but not yet entered the next. Although at the time it may not feel like it, these liminal spaces are sacred spaces, thin places.
Then there is the third kind of edge I am inviting us to explore, the edge where one is living on the inside of the edge, that is the prophetic edge. One may almost wish that they were outside. For outside one can be ignored or written off. For me, this is the most uncomfortable of the edges. A place where one needs to be committed to new questions rather than to old answers, to challenge the status quo, to foster an audacious imagination and to be courageous. Walter Brueggemann says, “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to that of the dominant culture around us” and “The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing.” What are the prophetic edges that we are being called to individually and communally?
Today is also about Together at the Edge. I have not forgotten the Together. Yes we are together today. We need others at these edge places. To help us construct, repair and at times remove our protective edges. To encourage us as we tend, extend and expand our growing edges. To stand with us as we question, challenge and envision the prophetic edge.
We need the support of others, friends, companions, teachers and healers. We need the conscious presence of other people to become sensitive to God’s presence, to hear the gospel, the Word in life through those speaking it around us and to be able to express our Love in a real way, in the other , in the world. I need the men and women at the Saturday breakfast, I need the community of Pitt St, I need my husband, children and grandchildren along with my network of friends and colleagues to accompany me to the edges of my life and to do so for them too.
We need one another, we need community to form us and to form each other. Let us linger at the edge together.
What would you need to do to linger at the edge?
Who do you need to help you linger?
Who needs you to linger with them?
*The text of this post was the Reflection offered by me at the Pitt St Uniting Church Retreat Day: Together at the Edge a title taken from a book of poetry by Noel Davis.