I am thinking of sheltering walls as any experience, concrete or figurative, that create a space of safety and security for us. Certainly, a sheltering walls experience is relational in some respect.
Consider the simple act of witness. It is a word that has been in our English language for a long time. In fact, it is originally Old English witnes, barely changed in its spelling. Its original meaning is knowledge of a fact from personal experience. I would add to that definition for our time that to stand as a witness, to be a witness, to do the act of witnessing is to know something from personal experience and to speak that knowledge for others.
To witness something or someone is to see them. To give witness is to communicate to another human being or even communities of human beings: I see you. I know that you are real. I know that your experiences are real. I know that you suffer. I know that you are human, like me. I see my own experiences in yours. I see your experiences in mine.
On a more subtle level, we might also engage in witnessing the earth, the growing things n the earth, animals that flourish here and that struggle to survive here. Every time I park my car in a large parking lot, I try to park near any tree or growing thing. I do this as a witness. Most parking lots exist because large spaces of trees and other growing things have been violently scraped away for the asphalt. I park as near a tree as I can, and I quietly greet the tree: “hello tree. Thank you for being here.” While it may sound crazy, it is a simple, largely unknown witness that I can give to the trees that we are losing every year on the earth and to the earth herself who needs the trees to stay healthy.
Who and what do you see today? Who and what do you know today from your personal experience? Who and what do you not know today because you have no experience of it? That’s an important question, because there may be others around us giving witness to things we know nothing of who deserve our attention. As that happens, our field of experiences expands because of the witness of others. Witness by witness, we begin to create sheltering walls for the larger human family, for the earth, for plants and animals and minerals. Ultimately, we exist as living witnesses for the stars which supplied all of the material needed for our earth and our bodies. They are our ancestors in the universe. So, while it may seem a little crazy, the next time you see stars in the sky–let them know: I see you. Thank you.