Big World/ Small World

There are times when I become aware of the immensity of creation, and our world. With its hundreds of millions of people each with life experiences and stories; of the thousands and thousands of communities I will never know or visit but which is home and familiar to others. All of this is on a small planet orbiting a relatively small and insignificant star amongst the billions of stars in the universe. At these times I feel small and insignificant – like speck of sand on a miles long beach.

But there are other times such as this morning when I went to see my dentist to get a crown re-cemented. Wearing my clerical collar reminded him I was a parish pastor. He began to tell me (in very general terms) of a conversation this morning with a neighbor of his (of whom he is quite fond) with whom he had spoken this morning and who was in distress because of his wife’s health status. One or two of the details he mentioned matched ones I am quite familiar with from the parish. I asked if he was speaking of a couple from St Paul’s. As it turns out he is one of a group of wonderful neighbors surrounding this older couple from our parish. I was able to let him know of what we are doing in the parish to provide a network of support and that we knew of and appreciated the support the neighbors are providing as well. It was one of those “small world” moments that happen every now and again.

But then which is it – a big world of which we are just a microscopic speck OR a small world in which we have connections and can make a difference.  At this point my many years of  Anglican theological training can show forth brightly as I make the unequivocally reply to that question – “YES!”  It is both.

We live in a large world of which we are a small part. We can feel alone and isolated. We can see the macrocosm of eons and glacial periods, of the sweep of history and our few moments on the vast stage of history as a bit player – hardly seen or noticed here in the back row.

Yet we also live in connected communities of people where who we are and what we do matters greatly. We can provide comfort, solace, joy and support for others or receive it for ourselves as is appropriate. We are reminded of the story seen in books and on the internet of the woman walking the beach and every time she found a stranded starfish she flung it back into the ocean. Another person observing her told her “with all of the miles of beach and thousands of starfish doing that really doesn’t make a difference.” Flinging another starfish back into the life-giving water  she said simply “it mattered to that one.”

That is our situation as well. We live in a big world where we cannot heal all the horrific conditions and hurts we see; nor end the misery and poverty we observe; nor give to every worthy cause or support every effort we see that has merit. We have to make choices. But they are important choices and when we make them in concert with the Gospel we make a difference in the lives of others. We, in whatever way we are able, help another to be immersed in life-giving care and concern. I recall one woman asking me how to live out the baptismal promises of “serving Christ in all persons” There is only one way to do it, I found myself saying,  – one person at a time.  Make a difference for this one, and then this one and then this one. It doesn’t seem very much on the big world scale but it means everything to those in the small world. Make a difference where you can and when you can and for whom you can – but that moves God’s project to re-make the world as it ought to be one step closer.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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