Today, our group experienced political tensions in Kenya, religious violence in Nigeria, and the rather more mundane experience of mortality that comes with aging parents. And for me, what would have been just two more headlines were made very real by three of my colleagues who hail from these countries. Come Thursday, my friends Charles and Christopher and Dennis were going back to shepherd flocks in these countries.
That realization was a jolt; a reminder that there is a “real world” (of course, the scare quotes are on purpose) to which we will all be returning in a few days, a world whose reality needs to be challenged and overturned by the coming of the really real–the Kingdom of God.
It was with those thoughts in mind that I came to see the first half of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Andrei Rublev. It’s a very different kind of film from what I’m used to. There is, thus far, no discernible narrative; it is more a series of vignettes taken (rather loosely, I’m told) from the life of Andrei Rublev, the great icon painter of 15th century Russia.
Here was a man surrounded by the concerns of the “real world,” who nevertheless produced some of the greatest icons in all of Christian history. A man who, in the midst of tartar invasions and mindless violence, stayed true to the vision to which God had called him and did so without withdrawing from the world. Indeed, he left the safe spirituality of the monastery to live out his vocation in public (at least thus far in the movie). As a result, his iconography was a witness to the beauty of God in the world of his time and does so still today.
So, as my pilgrimage to Canterbury moves into its final days, I am confronted by the real world to which I will soon be returning. I thank God that I am not going back to Kenya like two of my colleagues, where Somali Islamic extremists are sowing violcence. I am grateful not to be going back to Nigeria with another of my colleagues, where Boko Haram is increasingly targeting Christians with bullets and bombs.
I am going to the safety and security of Canada. But even there, I feel very much that I am a stranger, that I don’t quite fit with the culture. Of course, feeling a sense of dis-ease, of lack of fit, with the world is precisely what the Christian is supposed to feel a good bit of the time. That’s what the vocation of the baptised is about. We have been baptised into Christ, and thereby been made citizens of a different country and subjects of a different king. And while we give penultimate allegiance to those powers at once instituted by God and defeated by Christ, our primary loyalty lies elsewhere.
And yet, the feeling of disease is not, for me at least, the call of God to the life of solitary prayer (not that I could anyway!). It is the call to live my vocation as a witness to a different way in the world, even as it seems that I understand the logic on which that world functions less and less.
Looking forward to the second half of the movie tomorrow night.