This time of year is known locally as “cruise ship season” in Saint John- a time of year when the little buildings of our seaside town are dwarfed by the colossal luxury ships that dominate the harbour. These days, as I walk the streets of my neighbourhood, I find myself asking, “Why would a wealthy, upper middle class European tourist, who has the means to travel anywhere in the world, come to a grey, industrial town like this? What is so special about my home? It’s a question that many of us have asked, regardless of where we’re from. We tend to view the home that we inhabit, the corner stores where we shop, the parks where our children play as dull and ordinary precisely because we live out our day-to-day lives in these places. But what if, instead of viewing our daily surroundings as dull and prosaic because they are so familiar, we were to view them instead as holy and beautiful for the same reasons? Imagine if we were to view the streets of our neighbourhood- the hills and fields of our county- as holy land, claimed by God himself as Kingdom territory?
In The Napolean of Notting Hill, novelist G.K. Chesterton imagines a future England that is, although peaceful and secure, nonetheless stultifying and dull- an England run by bureaucrats and peopled by a profoundly apathetic populace. Enter young Adam Wayne (one of the main characters in this story) who serves as the provost of a certain London borough called Notting Hill. Unlike the provosts of the neighbouring boroughs- all of whom are portrayed as pedantic bureaucrats- Wayne possesses a deep and ernest passion for the territory and people over which he has charge. So inflamed with patriotism is the young Wayne that he is willing to declare war on the neighboring boroughs in an effort to prevent a thoroughfare from being built through his borough and, in the process, destroying the shops and houses of Pump Street. When another character (Auberon Quin) points out that Adam Wayne’s love for Notting Hill is absurd, the young provost responds with his theology of place: “Notting Hill,” Wayne argues, “is a rise or high ground of the common earth, on which men have built houses to live, in which they are born, fall in love, pray, marry, and die. Why should I think it absurd?” Speaking further of his love for his borough, Wayne says, “I was born, like other men, in a spot of the earth which I loved because I played boys’ games there, and fallen in love, and talked with my friends through nights that were the night of gods. And I feel the riddle. These little gardens where we told our loves. These streets where we brought out our dead. Why should they be commonplace?”
Why should Saint John be common place? For this is a place where thousands of souls- each precious to divine eyes- labour and love, suffer and rejoice, play and pray, live and be. These are the streets and buildings where innumerable stories- both tragic and triumphant- have unfolded and are unfolding. Here are the roads where I walk hand-in-hand with my four-year-old son, greeting my friends and neighbours, each of whose lives are just as precious as my own. With this in mind, how could I possibly marvel at another person’s willingness to visit my home and to see it’s beauty? More importantly, how can I possibly not do all in my power to work for the good of this city that God, in his infinite love, has claimed as precious? Unlike G.K. Chesterton’s character, Adam Wayne, I cannot say that I would be willing to kill and die for Saint John. I can, however, confidently say that I would be willing to live for it.
by Terence Chandra