The Barbarossa Tower stands in its ruined form above the coastal town of Gruissan in the South of France, affording a spectacular view of all that surrounds it. The rooftops of the town, which lies immediately beneath the tower, while being an amazing display of terracotta colours, give the impression of a sort of armour, protecting all that lies within. One can see the whole town and beyond, but little of the people and the life that are what really makes it a town!
My interpretation of the view seeks to emphasise the fact that the viewer can only glimpse the life of this busy and bustling seaside town.
My imagination conjures the varied lives and the activity that is hidden from sight and carefully protected. I am certain that it is not just the town's 'best face' that one glimpses in the street and that the real life of it's people remains out of sight and probably behind closed doors.
Most residential communities are much the same as this. We protect our lives and privacy very carefully. Living in a second-floor apartment I am aware that our home-life is totally hidden from view, except to those who we welcome in, and even then there is much of personal life and thought which is not readily shared with others.
We would naturally refer to Gruissan as a community, as we would Dickens Heath, our home, but how can this be when we share very little of ourselves? For community to happen there needs to be a greater sharing of self and a willingness for others to get to truly know you. An openness to receive as well as to give.
It is such an open relationship that we also need with God, who knows us entirely whether we like it or not, not closing ourselves in so he cannot reach us. All that we surround ourselves with may be as colourful as the rooftops of Gruissan, but a life that we share with others and with God will be much richer in its colours.
And there are those who, behind the counter, are there to serve us, engaging in a professional way and offering their 'barista skills' for our benefit. Usually these folk are cheerful and polite, but there are those times when, annoyingly, they can seem more absorbed in their own schedule or in conversation with colleagues.
I realise that in 'people watching' I am choosing to 'sit outside' all that is going on, rather than participate. It is as if I am not a customer and more a fly on the wall. As I begin to reflect on relationships in my life, I wonder to what extent I remain rather aloof, rather than fully entering in? How often am I so absorbed in what I want to be doing that I neglect relating to others fully? How many conversations have remained superficial or cursory because my mind is actually focussed somewhere else? Have I neglected to offer what someone else is really wanting from me (attention, interest, information ...) because I am too self-absorbed?
In the coffee shop it is fascinating just watching others and interesting to let one's imagination roam around what is going on for people. However, it would be a whole lot more interesting to really engage and relate, to meet and chat, to explore a conversation, a discussion or even an argument, that means you are truly relating to someone else.
What then of that crucial relationship with God?
I suspect that most of us would need to admit to being more self-absorbed than is healthy if God is to have his place in our lives. Many are likely to be, like me in the coffee shop, sitting on the edge and watching it all go on for others but not attending to our own relationship with God. Like those who make a single cup of coffee last for an hour or so, we may not be open to being served by God as he would wish to with his gifts.
Of course, those who relate to all those sitting in the coffee shop are those who serve, with their cheery smile and 'how my I help you?' and this seems rather closer to the God who gives of himself in Jesus. The image is rather spoiled, however, by the fact that they tend not to be so good at clearing the messy tables - and clearing the mess is at the heart of God's relationship with us, so that we might appreciate his gifts the more.