The Perfect

by Catherine Fournier

"Thou hast made us, O Lord, for thyself and our heart shall find no rest till it rest in Thee." St. Augustine.

One of the highlights of my family year is our annual canoe trip. Every August, we disappear into the wilds of Algonquin Park for ten to twelve days of canoe-tripping. We paddle, portage and swim, view beautiful sunrises and sunsets, listen to wolves, loons and scolding squirrels, and though things never go exactly as planned, we have a wonderful, exhilarating, strenuous, exhausting time. I collect memories for the long cold Canadian winters, and lull myself to sleep in February with the remembered sound and scent of waves on a shore, ripples from my paddle, or the sight of my boys playing canoe tag in a bay.

This year's trip was no exception. There were a few problems - three days of rain, some complaining, a wrenched knee, but on the whole it was a memorable experience. We heard wolves howling only 1/4 mile away one night, gazed in awe at 200 foot high trees, had a moose walk right up to our campsite, laughed, sang, teased, swam at dawn and dusk, developed a new year's worth of family jokes and grew again into a smoothly working team of paddlers and campers. It was perfect.

There are two types of perfection, though the word Perfect is used in both cases. The most important is that of perfection in Reality. Perfection exists in God's Reality, of which our world is an imperfect copy (I'm borrowing from Narnia here). We were made to be perfect, until Original Sin messed things up and left us hungry and searching to regain it. We approach perfection in reality when we (events, people, objects) most closely meet God's Reality and Plan. "Be perfect as your Father is perfect."

But there is also perfection in appearance, in other words, a material flawlessness. The Industrial Age's assembly lines and modern manufacturing have made this perfection of appearance accessible to all. Man-made or artificial objects are designed and manufactured to be uniform and flawless. This creates a problem. We've come to expect the appearance of perfection in all things, artificial or natural. Cosmetic surgery and better health care compound the problem by holding out the promise of a flawless physical appearance.

In our search for the lost perfection of Eden, we've come to confuse this expected appearance of perfection with the perfection of God's Reality. The hunger for God becomes a search for 'the perfect ___________.' Yet, material perfection tends to invoke a feeling of restlessness, and a desire for more material things, as if our restlessness will be quieted by the accumulation. Real perfection, on the other hand, tends to create a feeling of peace and serenity, as "our hearts find rest in Thee."

As I paddled through Opeongo or Dickson Lake, or navigated the twists and turns of the Crow River, I watched the landscape slowly passing. Each hillside was beautiful, perfect in its way. Yet no one individual tree was perfect. Each had twists in the trunk, scars on the bark or misshapen leaves. Their natural imperfections combined to create a perfect whole, part of God's creation. Physical imperfection of appearance holds no relation to the Reality of perfection.

As I chatted with whatever child was bow-paddling with me that day, and kept an eye on the two other canoes of family and gear, I enjoyed the experience of peace and family unity, perfect in its way. Yet some were arguing or complaining, and Peter and I were frustrated by recurring discipline problems. Far removed from the distractions of telephone, television and computer, each of us couldn't escape our and each other's physical, spiritual and emotional flaws. Living in the midst of this noisy, messy, hungry, obviously imperfect family, I could only take on faith that our natural imperfections combined to create a perfect whole, part of God's creation and by God's grace, growing in accordance with God's Plan. Families and children, homes and lives are not meant to appear perfect, (to either outside observers, or to ourselves) they are created to "be perfect."

I'll remember this, along with the sound of the wind in Red Pine boughs, and the scent of a sun baked beach, through the coming winter.

Return to Essays Page.