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They Paved Paradise

By The Ven David Gunn-Johnson

As I get older the more songs from a misspent youth seem to bang around in my head. That could be just the passing of the years. As I write this from Salamanca a Joni Mitchell song called Big Yellow Taxi has taken over. It comes from a time in the 60s when she was in Hawaii and although the distant view from her hotel was wonderful, immediately in front all the trees and grass had gone and in their stead was a really ugly parking lot. Which might provoke the question, “How can you make a car park beautiful anyway?”

The lyrics which insist on repeating themselves are,

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Now that could be a cue for lamenting what war, wanton development and heedless pollution are doing to this wonderful world but perhaps I’ll get into that another time. Right now it stirs me to think of relationships and of people, all brought into focus by two kinds of recent events. First there was the passing of much loved friends. Secondly there is the sadly frequent behaviour by those who have power which corrodes relationships and destroys self esteem. You can see the latter every day in your newspapers and reports of those who think intimidation and bullying can substitute for decent management of colleagues.

All of that takes me to another phrase, a great favourite of mine, ‘The Sacrament of the present moment’. Each moment of time is precious and unique and will never come again. In our relationships with others, if we would avoid the “I wish I’d told them” lament, it is rather vital to say what is needful while we have time, and we only possess the present moment. Let someone know how valued and loved they are now. Don’t wait.

Then there is the second thread of thought, still all about relationships. Let the world do what it will – we can only do so much to change it – but in the life of the Church and in the relationships between those who serve its mission we should ensure that there is never the opportunity for someone to feel reduced or devalued; to believe that they are less than they truly are; to think that this is not how the Church should be. Every moment of encounter with another is, potentially ‘sacramental’. If we forget that, we fail.

Then let the Church hold up a clear example of mutual valuing, a beacon, if you will, to the standards of a world in moral turmoil and, by so doing, challenge what is amiss.