WALKING EPIPHANY in Toronto: neighborhood notes from Heidi Dening
Welcome to a special Epiphany series of guest posts. I've asked a few friends who live (literally) around the world to take a walk through their neighborhoods and share some of what they see through photos, videos and words. Each one has selected from a variety of thoughtful prompts to consider the ways the Light has moved into their neighborhoods. Will you join us?
----------------------------------- Heidi Dening Toronto, Canada
Prompt: Local ground
The likeliest path to the ultimate ground leads through my local ground. I mean the land itself, with its creeks and rivers, its weather, seasons, stone outcroppings, and all the plants and animals that share it. I cannot have a spiritual center without having a geographical one; I cannot live a grounded life without being grounded in a place.
When Tamara first invited me to participate in the Walking Epiphany series, we had just moved back to Toronto after 9 years of living abroad. I grew up in a suburb of this city, but spent a relatively brief time in Toronto proper, and our new neighbourhood was completely unfamiliar to me. So in a sense my photos are a documentation of my first explorations into my new neighbourhood.
Toronto is known for it’s diversity. About half of its residents were born in outside Canada, and more than 140 languages are spoken in this city. The expression of this diversity varies across neighbourhoods. Our area was historically home to a large Eastern European population and their presence still flavours the community.
Prompt: Life on foot
Walking is the beginning, the starting point. Man was created to walk, and all of life's events large and small develop when we walk among other people. Life in all its diversity unfolds before us when we are on foot. In lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities, the prerequisite for city life is good walking opportunities. However, the wider perspective is that a multitude of valuable social and recreational opportunities naturally emerge when you reinforce life on foot.
We are blessed to live in a very walkable area; we can get nearly everything we need on foot. The kids walk to school, and numerous parks, libraries and community centres are within walking distance too. We have easy access to the subway, buses and streetcars. It is refreshing to be back in a place where going carless is perfectly normal.
Walking to school.
Cyclist and subway.
Prompt: Homegrown economy
Losing local businesses to national chains stores is by no means inevitable. Indeed, the growth of chain stores has been aided in no small part by public policy. Land use rules have all too often ignored the needs of communities and undermined the stability of existing business districts. Development incentives frequently favor national corporations over locally owned businesses. Increasing numbers of communities are rewriting the rules around a different set of priorities that encourage a homegrown economy of humanly scaled, diverse, neighborhood-serving businesses.... Active decision making at the local level and a creative approach to zoning can provide a powerful arsenal for defending community.
It has been fun to explore the nearby businesses of Bloor West Village and the Junction, many of which are independently owned. But the pervasive, familiar chains are here too - McDonald’s, Starbucks, and others - and I wonder which ones will prevail.
I wonder what emergency caused this long-lived business to close permanently…
Prompt: What is important
The availability of places where we are invited to stop and enjoy our rest provides a tacit reminder of what is important. If these places invite us to stay because we are consumers or producers, we will learn to see ourselves as valuable only insofar as we contribute to the economy. If our public spaces are ugly or inconvenient, we learn tacitly that our value as human beings is minimal.
Our neighbourhood is named after High Park, Toronto’s largest, located just south of us. Despite the cold weather, you can always find locals walking their dogs or enjoying some winter fun.
Budapest Park on the lakeshore.
At the library.
Prompt: Imaginative act
What I see behind my eyes changes what I see in front of them; my imagination shapes my perception so that I must look not once but twice at the world to see it whole. Walking down the street, I see a wild-looking character sitting on the steps of the library. His gray hair is matted. His dense beard covers the slogan on his grimy T-shirt. His small darting eyes are as volatile as a hawk's. I look once and think "drifter." I look twice and think "John the Baptist," and in that imaginative act my relationship to the man is changed.
In this relatively affluent area, it is easy to see with superficial eyes. Walking the blocks of historic, well-kept homes, all appears to be well. But already I am getting glimpses behind the masks. Strangers are becoming friends, each face a story. The struggles are real. Lord, make me a blessing to these people. Help me to walk among them as one whose identity is firmly rooted in Christ and who does not seek to receive but to give.
Prompt: To suffer with
To be an American is to move on, as if we could outrun change. To attach oneself to place is to surrender to it, and to suffer with it.
Having spent 9 years living as nomads, following jobs, it is a foreign idea to be attached, grounded, to a place. Some wise friends called it “living with a horizon”. Here, we are no longer aliens, but citizens. The horizon has vanished. I have been contemplating the reality that, God willing, we could be here ten years from now. In this city…perhaps even this neighbourhood. What does that even look like? Will I know the shopkeepers by name? Will my children, now small, grow to adulthood here? What impact will this place have on us? What difference will we make? How will it feel to put roots that deep?
Prompt: Salt and light
The way of being salt and light is a role (a part and position) that Christians are called to in the world. It is a role that requires us to take up a place in our world, at work, at school, and in the neighborhood. Christians are called to imagine another world, and to do so by living amid the divisiveness, alienation, suffering, and violence, as well as the good things, the loves and hopes of where we live now.... However, we are called to make a home that is not established on our own authority and perfection, but instead is set on the foundation of repentance, forgiveness, mutual care and correction, and reconciliation.
Heidi Dening is a daughter, sister, wife and mom of 3. She and her husband Ryan both studied illustration; she currently works full-time as a homemaker and he is a concept artist. Originally from Ontario Canada, she has resided in many places, including Germany, Romania, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, and a wee town called Deep River. She currently lives in Toronto.
What is Epiphany?
In Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, author Bobby Gross reminds us that the liturgical season of Epiphany brings the themes of light to a culmination. In Advent we cry out with Isaiah for the pople who walk in darkenss to see the promised light. In Christmas we celebrate the coming of that Light in the birth of Jesus. In Epiphany we recognize that the gift of Light is for the whole world as illustrated by the arrival of Magi from the East to the Jewish home of Mary and Joseph.
Throughout the daily readings in the Epiphany lectionary, we follow the early life and ministry of Jesus as He is revealed as the Son of God, appearing as light to a dark world. He is the very God shining forth, manifesting the glory of God. Oftentimes the accounts are private affairs (Transfiguration), other times public (Wedding at Cana, Baptism). All of them take place, though, in the places Jesus lived and worked, within the context of his relationships of family, friends, and followers -- the sick, possessed, poor, celebrating, drinking, seeking, religious, fearful, apathetic, discouraged neighbors.
Jesus often follows these revelations (or “epiphanies”) with the command to “Go and tell”.
“The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declaires, ‘I am the light o fhte world,’ says to us, ‘You are the light of the world.’ (Bobby Gross)
Lastly, two cultural practices are percolating in my imagination as I'm thinking about Epiphany: the Blessing of the Home and the Beating of the Bounds. They are not universally practiced, but intrigue me in our attempts to live the visible life of Jesus-followers in our own neighborhoods.
Each of my guest posters selected a few prompts from a big ol' list I sent them (inspired by an overflowing folder of quotes I've saved from the Daily Asterisk). They combined those prompts with photos and videos and observations from their own neighborhood.
What about your neighborhood?
What are some different methods of transportation your neighbors use? What would be needed for more people to be able to enjoy your neighborhood on foot?
Are there are any signs of a "homegrown economy of humanly scaled, diverse, neighborhood-serving businesses" in your neighborhood?
What sort of public "rest stops" are available in your neighborhood? Are they used well or barely noticed?
How has your place shaped your imagination about what's possible for your life? What possibilities has it opened up? What limitations has it created?
What are some common things you and your neighbor suffer because of where you live?
In what ways have you been or do you hope to be salt and light in your neighborhood?