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Figure of Speech

By Gerry Turcotte

 

The day of small things

03/16/2016
Gerry Turcotte

“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.” — Zechariah 4:10

One of the most unexpected joys of coming to St. Mary’s University in Calgary was the opportunity to write this column. While it is a most modest affair, I confess to enjoying the process and discipline of writing a monthly reflection, and especially value the opportunity to discourse at will on whatever subject happens to take my fancy. As readers of the column will know, often that interest revolves around activities undertaken by my university: its extraordinary capacity for volunteering, its support for the sacred arts, our acquisition of the Saint John’s Bible, or its remarkable celebration of the Liberal Arts and Sciences at a time when these core disciplines are often under threat.

The columns have also given me an opportunity to meditate on the key holidays — sacred and secular. In the process I have learned a fair bit about topics I knew only a bit about: from calendars to Valentine’s Day, ordinary days to sacred time. And through these ruminations readers have sent me ideas that have steered me in other wonderful directions: church bulletins, panic buttons, ashes and mercy.

What I didn’t expect was that there would be sufficient interest for the columns to be reproduced in multiple newspapers and journals, or that they would be gathered into a modest collection. And yet both have happened. In fact, on April 1, Small Things: Essays on Faith and Hope, will be launched by Novalis, a collection of three years of columns, organized as weekly readings. The collection takes its title from Zechariah, and his odd pronouncement: For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. As I explain in the introduction to the book, Zechariah was a priest who appears in both the Bible and the Quran. The passage in question arises when the Jews return to their homeland and build a temple of thanks. The ancients among the tribe bemoan the fact that the effort lacks grandeur; that it does not live up to its Solomonic predecessor. The younger folk rejoice at what they’ve built. Zechariah chastises those who do not appreciate the accomplishment, urging them to see the beauty and the glory of “small things” and to recognize that their greatness lies elsewhere.

Zechariah reminds us to rejoice in the small things; urges us to understand that our puny, human efforts will be raised up by a higher power and made mighty. For me it was a serendipitous moment that reminded me to continue with my infinitely small task of writing in the hopes that my words might become part of something greater. This is what I learned from the exercise of writing these columns. I would like to thank the many editors and readers who have encouraged me to keep writing, and I hope that you will have a chance to encounter Small Things when it is released in April.

Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.