Anglican Voices: Dreaming Small

Image: Dian PBP
Published May 1, 2023

“DREAM BIG!” Those words have always made me squirm. Back in my school days, well-meaning teachers and coaches said them to inspire. Instead, hearing them, I felt inadequate, like my ambition should be more super-sized. I embrace the art of doing little things—dreaming small, I call it. As God directs step after tiny step, together they can lead to something huge.

When taking a course at Wycliffe College—“Indigenous and Settler Christianities in Canada”—some years ago, I struggled to know how to align my efforts with Indigenous communities on our shared path to reconciliation. Guiding me, one of the professors cited William Blake: “He who would do good to another must do it in minute particulars.” What a joy to hear! So, I founded a series of talks—the Indigenous Issues Series—for the Harvard Club of Toronto, my university’s local alumni network. One at a time, we have explored Indigenous-led approaches to food security, conservation, housing, healthcare and language revitalization, among other critical topics, building a global community of Indigenous leaders and non-Indigenous allies standing with them. With some members of my parish, I joined a local allyship council in Oakville, Ont. This council’s combined efforts resulted in a historic event—the renewal of our treaty relationship in a first annual “Celebration and Feast of Allyship,” with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, on March 4 in Hagersville, and much more. All these things began as small steps, growing exponentially. Doing little things well and with purpose allows God to bless us with greater chances to serve Him. As Chris Harper—then bishop of Saskatoon and now national Indigenous Anglican archbishop—said as guest lecturer to our class, “The will of God won’t lead you where the grace of God can’t keep you.”

In “Winning our Neighbour for God,” a reflection my Christian meditation group listened to, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said it is often the almost imperceptible things we do for others that “connect them to the wellspring of reconciliation.” Could it be that really listening to someone at just the right time, showing them love and mercy, is one of those? Or that having invited a friend who isn’t a churchgoer to worship, on a whim, changed his trajectory? Maybe it seems like nothing. But “if we gain our neighbour, we gain Christ,” Williams asserted. Ray Bradbury’s short story about time travel, “A Sound of Thunder,” suggests that seemingly miniscule things—such as the loss of a butterfly—over time alter the course of history.

Jesus was the master of being local, taking care of those around him. He solved individuals’ health problems and secured money for Peter’s tax. He even concerned Himself with one lost sheep. God cares about our lives’ little details—we, likewise, can help others. Sin is overcome as we walk with each other, not standing in judgment but healing together with God’s tender love.

And who’s to say what constitutes a big dream? A while ago, I was thinking about Fannie Beeson, an ancestor of mine born in the mid-19th century who served as an Episcopal deaconess for nearly four decades. A woman of great learning and faith, she wore long dark robes and a large cross necklace even at social gatherings, as seen in old family photos. I told a friend how her life of service inspired me. A relative, soon after, happened to write me, asking if I wanted Aunt Fannie’s Bible. This synchronicity—perfect grace, it seemed to me—was a big dream come true, her handwritten notes on Scripture inside uplifting me.

I am a behind-the-scenes person. Dreaming small is perfect for me, and perhaps for you? We don’t have to solve it all—we only have to do something within our grasp, conquering first our fear of starting, as we “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) It is a long road but we must begin.

One at a time, my essays, fiction, and poems have appeared in print and online publications, including The Anglican Journal. Now, I am grateful that a book of my poems—including one about Fannie Beeson—has just been released. As late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy said in South Africa, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” We too—following in Jesus’ footsteps—might fulfill a mission greater than we could have envisioned. I leave dreaming big to God.


  • Nancy Coombs

    Nancy Coombs is a runner, a writer and a parishioner at St. Jude’s Church in Oakville, Ont.

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