Tuesday, November 26, 2013
In Walden, Thoreau wrote “We need the tonic of wildness." Presumably that need extends through the winter. A recent article in the Huffington Post put a sharper point on it: "We can never have enough of nature” ("What The 1960s Got Right About Health, Happiness And Well-Being," by Carolyn Gregoire, 11/22/2013).
Holy in its own way, that walk in the woods or the field or the sidewalk through the neighborhood may be medicinal not only for body and mind, but for the soul as well.
In the Preface to his recently released collection of Sabbath poems, Wendell Berry notes that, “the idea of the sabbath gains in meaning as it is brought out-of-doors and into a place where nature’s principles of self-sustaining wholeness and health are still evident. In such a place -- as never, for me, under a roof -- the natural and the supernatural, the heavenly and the earthly, the soul and the body, the wondrous and the ordinary, all appear to occur together in the one fabric of creation. All stand both upon the earth and upon the fundamental miracle that where once was nothing now we have these creatures in this place on this day. In such a place one might expectably come to rest, with trust renewed in the creation’s power to exist and to continue.”
Last year Lori and I bought snowshoes to better navigate the trails through the prairie behind the garden. For sabbath walks in winter. Because the soul has a hunger irrespective of the season.
And the fire will be waiting for us when we return
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Early in the summer my Mother-in-law planted a tomato -- two, if the complete truth be told. But while one of them thrived in its new location, the future of the other one was none so bright. The story of that first one is common enough -- seeded in some unknown greenhouse, sold in a local store, planted and eventually harvested.
This is the story of that other one.
It started out in that same common way, purchased alongside the other one and planted in the same backyard. To be sure, they were planted in a garden bed exposed to the usual threats -- it's always a gamble to offer up desirables to the Fates. But for some reason this one proved to be especially appealing to the critters of the great outdoors. Not long after planting it my Mother-in-law discovered it uprooted and dutifully tamped it back into the soil. Some time later, while working in another part of the garden, she noticed something dark out of the corner of her eye laying on the grass in that tomatoey part of the yard, but things are always laying on a yard, after all, and the weeds at hand or the song of a nearby bird or thoughts of the afternoon errands claimed her mind and she paid no further attention.
Days went by. Eventually her horticultural ministrations took her to that region of the garden where she discovered that that "dark" object from days before was, indeed, that same seemingly cursed tomato plant once again uprooted and cast aside by a foraging rabbit or a tugging deer. By now, as I mentioned, several days had passed and surely it had shriveled beyond resuscitation. With nothing, however, to lose but a little extra effort, she laid the waylaid plant in a wheel-barrow where some water had collected and left it to soak awhile in hopes of some supernatural rehydration. Later, she troweled a fresh space in the soil and replanted the little sprout with only the thinnest margin of optimism.
But it grew -- well, in fact -- and now this little tomato-bush-that-could is replete with rewarding fruit. A true survivor. She thought it nothing short of miraculous.
She mentioned the story to someone at the local weekly paper but he betrayed little interest in the story. I can understand his reticence. After all, a news outlet needs to be poised and ready should any breaking news...well, break out. You wouldn't want your word processor clogged up with a tomato story. That "breaking news" for a weekly paper is almost an oxymoron is beside the point. They clearly had more pressing concerns -- a litter bug, perhaps; or too much pressure in the water fountain at the little league park that nearly squirted someone's eye out. "All our reporters are busy."
I wasn't there but I can almost hear the editor thinking, "we are in the NEWS business -- civic education -- not inspiration!"
The rest of us, however, might value the humble, quiet reminder that it's tragically easy to give up too soon on the possibilities of life. And when that happens, everybody misses out.
But for those who persist -- those who loyally replant the uprooted and those who keep on out of the sheer determination to grow -- there is, more often than you might think, something flavorful and sweet at the end.
I'm just saying...
Friday, August 16, 2013
Be connected, in other words, but not too much so. That might be good counsel to congregations as well as couples. Faith communities have much to do with one another. We have, in this world and in this community, considerable common cause. We need each other’s company, support, encouragement, nurture, and gifts. It’s important that we keep up with each other -- sharing our respective joys and concerns; keeping current with each other’s “news.” But as Nia would remind us, it’s possible to get too close. It’s important to maintain the healthier balance -- on the sofa, in the kitchen, and among the pews.But let there be spaces in your togetherness,And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.Love one another, but make not a bond of love:Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loafSing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.And stand together yet not too near together:For the pillars of the temple stand apart,And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Monday, March 18, 2013
The sun doesn't set in Iowa; at least not in our part of it -- not like this. Yes, the day comes to an end; yes, the sun goes away. Night eventually envelopes us. But there is no “sunset” on this scale. Perhaps it is the trees that veil the view. Perhaps it is the rolling topography that interrupts the horizon. In the city, to be sure, there are all the buildings reaching up like fingers in front of a baby’s eyes, curtaining everything on the other side.
Or it could, of course, be that the problem is less “Iowa” and more “home” wherever that may be -- home, where we are busy, moving to and fro; indoors and preoccupied with our weariness alongside we have or have not accomplished and all that needs to be done.
It's too bad. There is something almost medicinal about the setting sun -- meditative, I suspect, even for the non-spiritual. That settling fire becomes a vortex, hypnotically focusing and drawing all it touches into its own mellowing transformation from hot yellow to warm orange to confectioner’s striations of pink and lavender and mauve. Before we are even aware of it we, too, have settled. And with that, it's work somehow complete, it drops below the horizon, out of sight as in an instant, until tomorrow’s rising -- somehow knowing, I suppose, that its work is never done.
It will be hard to leave this evening ritual -- drifting out to the circled chairs under the trees out back, taking our places on the east side of the arc, instinctually facing west; offering ourselves, as it were, into the dusky ministrations of God’s first creation.
And being somehow recreated, ourselves.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Dance music incongruously blares from the historic courtyard where a DJ is testing his sound system for a wedding scheduled later in the afternoon. It is a jarring disruption, and strikes us as a singularly curious choice for nuptials, here where almost 177 years ago -- on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836 -- 342 soldiers lost their life. “Here” is the Presidio La Bahia at Goliad, Texas where once again we have made pilgrimage. I suppose one could argue that our presence is as odd as the bride and groom’s. We have, after all, been here before. Many times. And as I mentioned, it isn't a happy place.
La Bahia is not the site of a battle. The soldiers did not die in combat. They were prisoners of war slaughtered, in a dramatic presumption of ends justifying means, by their captors. Having surrendered a week earlier, at the Battle of Coleto Creek, under the written assurance of favorable treatment, Colonel James Fannin and his fellow independence fighters were marched back to the fort they had previously occupied as defenders. A week later, under orders from the Mexican President Santa Ana, they were marched back outside, circled and fired upon at close range. A couple dozen managed to survive and escape. A similar number were spared for practical reasons. The bodies of the massacred were simply abandoned where they fell. 342.
It isn't a moment in the popular lore of Texas history that has sustained the high profile mystique of the Alamo -- John Wayne never made a movie about Goliad, nor anybody else in Hollywood for that matter. It was, nevertheless, a galvanizing episode in the Texans fight for independence that was eventually won, a few short weeks later, at the Battle of San Jacinto. But if I have ever been to San Jacinto I don't remember it; and though I have visited the Alamo a few times it feels compelled by a sense of obligation; a historical duty of birthright.
I haven't quite fathomed these pilgrimages to Goliad. Perhaps it is mere proximity or the quietude’s lack of other things to do. Perhaps it is the nostalgic lure of my family’s roots in this area just 15 miles away, making it “ours” in a way only abstractly and collectively true of the Alamo some 90 miles away.
I can't help but sense, however, that the story itself is the hook and line that draw me back again and again -- fathoming the cold calculations of the brutal orders; imagining, or perhaps hoping for, the ambivalence of those carrying them out; channeling the apprehension of those prisoners first rousted and then rustled outside; smelling, even after all these years, the gunpowder and the blood; both hearing and feeling the wing-beats of buzzards descending in subsequent days; and grieving, yet again, the capacity of humankind to treat our fellows as nothing.
I don't know why a couple would choose to get married there -- there among such memories and echoes. But I rather appreciate the symbol of it. In the same way as a dog marks its territory -- overriding the scent of a previous presence -- perhaps a wedding’s declaration of love and hopeful creation is the perfect mark to spray on a site whose prior scent was a noxious and nauseous cocktail of arrogance, ambition, and brutal disregard for the sacredness of life.
I hope the happy couple lives happily ever after. And has lots and lots of kids. 342.