LUNCH at the monastery.
But this lunch was on a Friday in Lent, so it was somewhat different, and not just in the simplicity of the food.
The meal was in silence, in contrast to the usual pattern of the monastery, namely, that one of the brothers reads to us during meals from a book ranging from history through theology to contemporary theory of leadership.
And I realized how much I look forward to the reading at meals, and how much my mind is engaged by it.
So, in the absence of that stimulus, I started to observe things around me that I had never considered before, like the salt and pepper mills.
They have been there forever, it seems. They are elegantly simple, made of heavy, perfectly clear plastic material, and as a result, you see the contents, coarse salt in the one, peppercorns in the other.
My first reflection was, “How practical! You would never have either of them run out of salt or peppercorns during a meal.”
Or, even more tiresome in my experience, you wouldn’t run out of pepper part way through a recipe.
But then I went on to consider that the transparency has a value in itself. It lets you see exactly what is happening, and it lets you see the basic elements of the condiments, not just the final results. In an age where so much is pre-arranged, pre-shredded, pre-cooked, it puts you that one step closer to the reality of food, rather than simply its capacity to satisfy your hunger.
I thought back to an experience during the meeting of the primates of the Anglican Communion that same month.
In response to many questions about the present legal difficulties of the Canadian church, I had shown a15-minute video about the residential schools issue. It is clear, candid and to the point.
But what surprised me was the response of so many of my colleagues who marvelled at the transparency of the presentation. They envied us, not for our troubles, but for the transparency with which we spoke of them.
The remark took me back to my first meeting with the other primates in 1989, when the Archbishop of Central Africa, the then senior primate of the Communion (now Sir Khotso Makhulu) said to me, “What we respect most in the Canadian church is your transparency; you are the most transparent province of the Communion.”
I reflect on the imagery that Paul uses in writing to the church in Corinth about love (I Corinthians 13:12) when he contrasts the opaque nature of our present knowledge of God, of others, even of ourselves, with the utter clarity of the knowledge that is to come.
I know in myself that transparency has real terrors; I am not sure that I want to be known as God knows me, warts and all. Indeed I am certain that I do not!
But for the Church as Body of Christ to strive towards that value is a step towards reflecting the values of the Kingdom of God in the world.
And to be recognized, even acclaimed for it, is intensely gratifying, even if the immediate cause is trouble that I could never have foreseen and whose end seems, some days, nowhere in view.
And all this in a pepper mill.
Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.