What Dogs Smell

For Emma.

When dogs smell, they smell in vivid color. They smell every hue of days past and days to come. When dogs smell, they smell the eons, every forefather and foremother who has ever peed. When dogs smell, they smell the beginning of time, the history of their race and of humanity, too. When dogs smell, they follow every trace of the Creator’s touch. When dogs smell, they do not smell rot or stench or death. Even bad smells smell good, for dogs smell redemption.

Post-Apocalyptic Eco-Joy

A vision from Isaiah 34

Many times I read parts of the Old Testament without being gripped by the passage.  I take an already fragmentary book like Isaiah and look at its verses in isolation, which makes it even harder to figure out what’s going on.  Today was different.

The first half of the chapter contains a warning of God’s coming judgment.  “The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies….  He will give them over to slaughter” (v2).  There are many familiar apocalyptic images: “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll” (v4).  Then there’s even more blood and gore, even for a Braveheart guy.  “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution to uphold Zion’s cause” (v8).  Then something strange happens.

God gives the desolate land back to the animals.  “The desert owl and screech owl will possess [the land of Edom]; the great owl and the raven will nest there” (v11).  The passage goes on to describe thorns, nettles, and brambles overrunning the old battlements.  Jackals, hyenas, wild goats, and night animals will “find for themselves places of rest” (v14).

Some would look at these animals and, because they were ceremonially unclean (i.e., unfit for sacrifice), see them as symbolic of God’s judgment.  Maybe.  But what if God is simply returning that particular patch of land (Edom), back to its original inhabitants?  The language Isaiah uses is not unlike that used for the people of Israel, for he says of the above animals:

“None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate.  For it is [God’s] mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.  He allots their portions; his hand distributes them by measure.  They will possess it forever and dwell there from generation to generation” (vv16-17).

Those are some happy animals.  God be praised!

Paradise Lost?

The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood Part III: What We’re Missing

What is it that we have lost? Childhood is a time of emotion, imagination, fun-centered friendships, and awe.

Even though adulthood brings with it physical freedom, childhood has emotional freedom. Only those with a child’s heart have the freedom to feel without limit: laugh, giggle, cry, whine, shriek, etc. No feeling is out of bounds.

Likewise, childhood is a time of boundless intellectual freedom. My heart goes out, too, to those whose childhoods were characterized by restraint. My musings and generalizations here are a reflection of my own upbringing. “You had a magical childhood,” my fiancée concluded, after looking through the family photo album, full of picture of me with gloves on my feet, a pitch helmet on my head, and a sword in one hand. Or the video of me telling my third-grade class that I wanted to be a cryptozoologist. My mind as a child was free to go wherever it desired. How many adults can say that? And how many of our minds, given the choice to go to the heights of the ineffable, go to the gutter instead!

The nature of friendship, too, seems to change. Now I did not have any great friends as a child, other than my sister, with the exception of Nate in 5th grade (whom I still call and email from time to time, though he lives at the other end of the country) and some half-assed friendships in middle school and high school. But let’s be honest, most of us didn’t figure out how to be good friends until college (I’m especially speaking for the guys). Even with those qualifications and limitations, I would still see childhood friends as being drawn together by shared fun, while adult friends, as often as not, are drawn together by shared duty. My friends now tend to be my coworkers. But at the cookout on Friday, four-year old Halsey’s friends were determined simply by who else wanted to play in the dirt pile.

If you remember the joys of dirt, then you can agree with the importance of awe at the world around us. A cardboard box is a source of endless joy and possibility, all the more so if you can fit inside it, as it transforms into a car, submarine, and space ship. When we are born, the entire world is unknown, except for mother, and all of the unknown is a source of awe. As we increase in knowledge, the temptation is to decrease in awe. Perhaps the greatest loss in a human’s transition into adulthood is a loss of awe.

The greatest tragedies of childhood – abuse, neglect, loss of love ones, physical hardship – are those that deprive a child of emotional freedom, imagination, friends, and awe.

Do you remember the joys of simply playing in dirt? If not, the next post is especially for you. Meanwhile, I covet your comments.

Distant from the Land

Sometimes I feel alienated from the land.  After being closed up inside, in  the library and in my basement study, I miss the long summer days of mowing and digging ditches that I once knew.

I was thinking about the sacraments the other day.  Where does the water come from that we use to baptise?  Out of a faucet.  Where does the wine/juice come from?  Out of a bottle from the store.  The bread?  Out of a box.  (Ours does, anyway.  It’s matzoh!)  But it hasn’t always been that way.

Once I would have known the water from the river, where I got my drinking water and washed my clothes.  I would have known the feet that crushed the grapes that had made the wine… or they would have been my own.  I might have known the hands or the mule that turned the millstone to crush the  grain for the bread.  So much of the beauty of the sacraments is the making holy of the ordinary.  God has made all of creation good, including the water I wash with.  The goodness of the sacraments is a reminder of the goodness of the mundane.

So I did a funny thing yesterday.  I rode my bike down to the Mississippi, two miles from my house.  I walked down the boat ramp to the water and watched the crane lifting scrap iron onto a barge.  I dipped my fingers in the water, splashed my forehead, and blessed myself.

Dining Room Table of the Soul

Grandma kept it laden with five course meals for a dozen — though we were four in number — an altar to our stomachs and to her ego.  She fed us well.

Grandma kept it beneath a thick plastic sheet (the spills!), a lace table cloth (the neighbors!), and a custom-made insulated pad (the heat!).  She protected it well.

But now the table is mine to keep.  The plastic, the lace, and the pad are gone.  Come spills, come neighbors, come hot pans, I’ll take my chances.  I have no time for pretense.  I will not disguise the very thing I intend to protect.  The grain of the wood glows beneath my plate in ancient beauty, brown and deep. 

Grandma kept the table as she kept her soul.  Now I will keep it as I keep mine.

Published in: on September 22, 2007 at 11:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Treetop Prayer

Lord, where will I meet you?

On bridge of steel

or bridge of stone

or in the water

that binds life to life?

On a blank page

in the autumn air

up in the branches of a tree?

You are more

than everything

and not

any thing

but everywhere

I see

You.

best climbing tree ever

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Speaking of Conspiracies….

 Chris Paine has given us one more reason why open-minded Republican-sympathizers (they exist!) should be careful what they watch.

His 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? only mounts a secondary attack against right-wing politicians.  Big business and big oil are center-stage.  They seem to have screwed over the little guy, yet again.

I feel angry and sad, but mostly angry.  I tried to think of other historical incidents when the very technology we had longed for was within our grasp – we already had it! – and we let it slip away.  I tried, but I couldn’t find anything else this collosally depressing.

We have lost great technologies before, only to later regain them.  But have we ever lost them on purpose?

Kind of reminds me of what Dark Helmet once said: “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

Evil can be pretty dumb, too.  If we were not dependent on foreign oil….

The Midwest as the Promised Land

Marilynne Robinson, Garrison Keillor, and Sufjan Stevens on the Blessings of Middle America

What was monotony in my teen eyes has metamorphosized: green vistas and golden fields spread flat as far as the eye can see, undulating slowly with the passing miles.  Anyone who has traveled across the American midwest can attest: boring can be beautiful.

From the outside this might appear to be a land of flatness and cold.  But those who have rested within its embrace know the truth.  Miracles happen here.  Epic betrayals, too, but hope springs eternal and the fields are ripe with redemption.

In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson provides the text of a dying father’s letter to his 7-year-old son.  “I was thinking about the things that had happened here just in my lifetime– the droughts and the influenza and the Depression and three terrible wars.  It seems to me now we never looked up from the trouble we had just getting by to put the obvious question, that is, to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand….  And what is the purpose of a prophet except to find meaning in trouble?” (233)  Every life is a miracle, every act of forgiveness is an act of God.  The more prodigal the son or prodigal the land, the more bold a “wild gesture” it is to stay on and love anyway (247).  Even a dead father can reach from the grave with the promise of unconditional love.  Such wonders can happen in the city, too, but in a simple land, stripped of all worldly sophistication, such blessings taste all the sweeter.  Only in the darkness can a light shine the brightest.

Somewhere in Minnesota, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon eckes out its existence.  The mix of nostalgia and parody helps sweeten the sometimes bitter truth: life is difficult.  The title of last week’s headline: “In Lake Wobegon, all of the beautiful weather makes ones thoughts turn to death, of course.”  Yet this is “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  Even ordinary places can know greatness, however contrived, and in the dead of winter, thoughts of God and his provision are never far from the locals’ minds.

The strangest proponent of the blessings of the Midwest is Sufjan Stevens.  They say that he will write one album for each of the fifty states.  Maybe so, but he is taking his sweet time with the land he knows best.  Michigan wavers between the hopes and questions of faith.  “For The Widows In Paradise; For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti” reads like the promises of  Jesus to the widows and ophans of southeast Michigan.  Yet we hear also the longing of “Oh God, Where are You Now?”  The land is “paradise,” but it is greatly in need of God.  llinois is the haunt of aliens and of serial killers.  This is a land of repentance.  The most memorable refrain is “I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” from “Chicago.”  This is also a land of love, but of a love that loses, whether to the complications of pre-adolescent same-sex attraction, or to the complications of cancer.  Yet thoughout all this, the glory of God can be seen.

This flat land speaks of wonders, if this land can speak, any land can.  It’s enough to “make me homesick for a place I never left” (Gilead, 235).  Love where you are!

Unwashable

I washed off the wilderness but not the wildness, the dirt that untamed my soul.

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 9:32 pm  Comments (2)  

Forest Feast

We pressed through thorn and spiderweb, darkness and rain, to the palace and to the feast, as any lumpy bed and paltry meal would be for such weary wanderers as we.

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 8:46 am  Comments (2)