A dim veil hangs over the landscape and flood, And the hills are all mellowed in haze, While Fall, creeping on like a monk ‘neath his hood, Plucks the thick-rustling wealth of the maize.
And long for this manna that springs from the sod Shall we gratefully give Him the praise, The source of all bounty, our Father and God, Who sent us from heaven the maize! ~William Fosdick “The Maize”
The autumn garden can feel like a treasure hunt as we pull out and sort through the dead and dying vines and stalks: the giant zucchini growing undetected under leaves, the cucumber hanging from a cornstalk, the fat hollowed beans ready to burst with seed.
Yet the greatest Easter Egg of all hidden away in husk and cornsilk is this glass gem corn, a maize variety Dan planted in the spring. We’ve never experimented with it before and it grew listlessly, almost half-hearted, with stunted stalks and few apparent ears, pitiful next to our robust sweet corn crop.
It fooled us; this corn is pure gold in a kaleidoscope display. The ears are meager but glowing like stained glass, colorful quilt patches on a stalk. We gathered it up for “Show and Tell” at church last night, showing our Chapel friends what God can do with His unending palette of heaven-sent color and imagination. People come in all colors too, thanks to His artistry, but not nearly so varied as this kernels of colored glass.
Definite beliefs are what make the radical mystery — those moments when we suddenly know there is a God about whom we “know” absolutely nothing –– accessible to us and our ordinary, unmysterious lives.
And more crucially: definite beliefs enable us to withstand the storms of suffering that come into every life, and that tend to destroy any spiritual disposition that does not have deep roots. ~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss
Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. ~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk
Unexpected God, your advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen. ~Revised Common Lectionary First Sunday of Advent
We are only a few weeks away from the beginning of Advent, a time when I am very guilty of blithely invoking the gentle story of Christmas Eve’s silent night, the sleeping infant away in a manger, the devoted parents hovering, the humble shepherds peering in the stable door.
The reality, I’m confident, was far different.
There was nothing gentle about a teenage mother giving birth in a stable, laying her baby in a feed trough–I’m sure there were times when Mary could have used a life preserver. There was nothing gentle about the heavenly host appearing to the shepherds, shouting and singing the glories and leaving them “sore afraid.” The shepherds needed crash helmets. There was nothing gentle about Herod’s response to the news that a Messiah had been born–he swept overboard a legion of male children whose parents undoubtedly begged for mercy, clinging to their children about to be murdered. There was nothing gentle about a family’s flight to Egypt to flee that fate for their only Son. There was nothing gentle about the life Jesus eventually led during his ministry: itinerant and homeless, tempted and fasting in the wilderness for forty days, owning nothing, rejected by his own people, betrayed by his disciples, sentenced to death by acclamation before Pilate, tortured and hung on a cross until he took his last breath.
Yet he understood the power that originally brought him to earth and would return him to heaven, and back again someday. No signal flares needed there.
When I hear skeptics scoff at Christianity as a “crutch for the weak”, they underestimate the courage it takes to walk into church each week as a desperate person who will never ever save oneself. We cling to the life preserver found in the Word, lashed to our seats and hanging on. It is only because of grace that we survive the tempests of temptation, guilt and self-doubt to let go of our own anger in order to confront the reality of the radical mystery of God.
It is not for the faint of heart, this finding a “definite belief” within our ordinary unmysterious lives and giving it deep roots to thrive. It is reasonable and necessary to be “sore afraid” and “bend our anger” into His peace.
I love to go out in late September among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries to eat blackberries for breakfast, the stalks very prickly, a penalty they earn for knowing the black art of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries fall almost unbidden to my tongue, as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words like strengths or squinched, many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps, which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well in the silent, startled, icy, black language of blackberry-eating in late September. ~Galway Kinnell“Blackberry Eating”
“In that year, 1914, we lived on the farm And the relatives lived with us. A banner year for wild blackberries Dad was crazy about wild blackberries No berries like that now. You know Kitsap County was logged before The turn of the century—it was easiest of all, Close to water, virgin timber, When I was a kid walking about in the Stumpland, wherever you’d go a skidroad Puncheon, all overgrown. We went up one like that, fighting our way through To its end near the top of a hill: For some reason wild blackberries Grew best there. We took off one morning Right after milking: rode the horses To a valley we’d been to once before Hunting berries, and hitched the horses. About a quarter mile up the old road We found the full ripe of berrytime— And with only two pails—so we Went back home, got Mother and Ruth, And filled lots of pails. Mother sent letters To all the relatives in Seattle: Effie, Aunt Lucy, Bill Moore, Forrest, Edna, six or eight, they all came Out to the farm, and we didn’t take pails Then: we took copper clothes-boilers, Wash-tubs, buckets, and all went picking. We were canning for three days.” ~ Gary Snyder “6” from Myths and Texts.
Earth’s crammed with heaven And every common bush afire with God But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries~ –Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Aurora Leigh”
All I wanted was a few blackberries.
I admit my objective was just to pick enough for cobbler for today’s noon dinner after church, oblivious to God burning in the bushes towering over me, around me, snagging me at every opportunity. If I had given it more thought, I would have realized the reaching vines hooking my arms and legs were hardly subtle. The thorns ripped at my skin, leaving me bloody and smarting. The fruit itself stained my hands purple, making them look freshly bruised. I crushed fat vines underfoot, trampling and stomping with my muck boots in order to dive deeper into the bushes. Webs were everywhere, with spiders crawling up my arms and dropping down into my hair. I managed to kick up one hornet’s nest so I called it quits.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, so blinded to all the clues crammed in every nook and cranny of every bush.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, trampling on holy ground with well-protected feet, unwilling to be barefoot and tenderly vulnerable.
All I wanted was a few blackberries, the lure of black gold plucked at the cost of rips and scratches and tears.
What I got was burned by a bush…
and a few blackberries for today’s crammed-with-heaven cobbler.
We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake. ~C.S. Lewis from “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer”
God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?
For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side.
There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. ~C.S. Lewis fromMere Christianity
The older I get, the more I recognize the need to be alert and awake to the presence of God in the crowded world around me. It doesn’t come naturally. We humans have an attention deficit, choosing to focus inwardly on self and ignoring the rest. If it isn’t for me, or like me, or about me, it somehow is not worthy of my consideration.
We wear blinders, asleep, unaware we must choose an incognito God; we think His invisible immensity must be obvious, like a lightning flash.
And so – He has come and walked among us in plain sight. No longer incognito. The time to choose has come.
In your extended absence, you permit me use of earth, anticipating some return on investment. I must report failure in my assignment, principally regarding the tomato plants. I think I should not be encouraged to grow tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold the heavy rains, the cold nights that come so often here, while other regions get twelve weeks of summer. All this belongs to you: on the other hand, I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly multiplying in the rows. I doubt you have a heart, in our understanding of that term. You who do not discriminate between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence, immune to foreshadowing, you may not know how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf, the red leaves of the maple falling even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible for these vines. ~Louise Glück “Vespers”
As the calendar turns to September and August fades away, I know all too well what this means. I have spent a lifetime loving the season of autumn best of all, but that is because I wasn’t living it, and it seems now I am.
More and more the blight feels personal, the color change is in the mirror looking back at me, the leaves falling from my own scalp, the threat of rot setting in quite real. There is nothing “pumpkin spice” and “harvest gold” about growing older.
Even so, the fruit I try to bear is still edible even if not as presentable; the vine still bears useful life. A first frost forces ripening and prepares what remains because time is short and there is so much yet to get done.
I feel the responsibility of making all this effort count for something. I am here because I was intentionally planted, weeded, nurtured, watered and warmed. When it is my turn, the rot is cut away and thankfully forgotten.
I will still be sweet to the taste, just as I am meant to be.