Sunday, August 26, 2012

The glory of Lebanon

Fair trees! wheresoe'er your barks I wound
No name shall but your own be found.
-Andrew Marvell
 My old housemate Paul from my commune-days, in addition to his Easter fish breakfasts and his wild celebation, was infamous for his stories.  One of my favorites involved the time a Romanian pastor who was somewhat of a horticultural fanatic visited his community in the very lush city of San Francisco.  Because of the Bay Area’s year-round temperate and rainy weather, it supports a wide range of plant life, including many that are only found in rainforests.

“What’s that one called?” the wide-eyed Romanian asked Paul as they walked.

“Gee, I don’t know that one,” Paul answered awkwardly and somewhat deceptively.  Truth be told, it was not just “that one” whose name had escaped him.

“Ooh, what’s the name of that one?” the Romanian chimed within the next minute or two in their stroll through the veritable horticultural wonderland. 

“You know, I actually don’t know much about plants,” Paul replied a little more truthfully.

This admission did not deter the enthusiast, however, and soon as their walk took them by another green spectacle he interjected yet again, “Wow!  What do you call that one?”

Finally Paul attempted to make himself clear.  “Look, I actually don’t know the names of any of these.  I might be able to point out an oak on a good day, but I can guarantee you that I will be entirely unable to give you the names of any of the plants that you don’t already know.”

As the full confession sunk in, the Romanian looked at Paul with shocked surprise.  “But Paul,” he gasped at bit breathlessly, “if you don’t know their names, how can you love them?”

How indeed.

I remembered that story this week as I attempted to do damage control on my poor urban garden that has never really gotten very far off the ground.  I thought about the lush world of beauty around me, the many unique spectacles of nature that I pass by every day, rarely noticing them enough even to wonder their names.

And I thought about the redemption that we long to be a part of, whether the redemption Christ began in the Incarnation or that which he will complete in the New Creation when “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad” and “the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus.”  What a very earthy redemption that will be!

Come Lord Jesus.  In the mean time, may we be attentive to prepare places for you in the physical matter of the creation that waits with us for new birth.  May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and may we there with shovels in that earth to hallow the places we inhabit. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Despite herself

My elegant grandmother, a relic of an age gone by with the Old South dripping from her accent and syntax, never saw my sister’s fiancĂ©. 

“Now Sweetie Pie,” she had crooned to me across the breakfast table when I was about twelve, “what would you think if your brother came home one day and said, ‘Hey look y’all, I got married!’ and had a colored girl on his arm?”

The scenario confused my tender, adolescent brain, and after staring stupidly at her regal poise that awaited my response, I stammered the only reply I could articulate for this outlandish hypothetical.  “Well...” I hesitated, “I’d be really upset that he didn’t invite us to the wedding.”

There was a delay in Gramma’s chortle before she finally seemed to determine that I was joking.  “I mean, Doll Baby,” she winked good-naturedly, “what would you do if your brother wanted to marry a colored girl?”

I still blinked my innocent confusion, not feeling like I had been given enough data to determine a response.  “Do you mean,” I asked again, “without us getting to know her first?”

Finally Gramma seemed to determine the conversation would go more smoothly if she simply told me what she wanted to say.  “No, Baby Girl, I am just trying to point out that it is wrong for the races to mix.  There are many lovely colored people out there, and they should marry each other and have other lovely colored babies.  If the races mix, pretty soon there won’t be anymore races and we’ll all be a bunch of mongrels.  You wouldn’t want your brother to have a bunch of mongrel babies, would you?”

Dumbfounded, I had honestly not realized this was still a thing.

But my grandmother never saw my sister’s fiancĂ©.  Oh, she met him several times in the past year before she died; she laid her frail, dignified hand in his caramel fingers, she interrogated him with regard to his life goals across the breakfast table, she offered him her litany of proverbs interspersed with her ever-changing anecdotes form her own life.  Essentially blind for the past six years, she could drill her sharp blue eyes into his sepia face without ever suspecting the nice young man to whom she spoke was one of the mongrels she had feared we might all become. 

Gramma’s blindness tortured the last years of her life before she died this summer, and in no way do I suggest that it was a good thing or that she deserved it.  Nevertheless, there was a bit of a poetic justice to the fact that her agonizing debility gave her access to a relationship that would have been barred otherwise.  Because she couldn’t see his face, Gramma could recognize him to be a nice young man for her granddaughter to marry.

I like to think that my perception of the world will become clearer as I age.  But until my heart is healed of its hardness, it is good to know that my debilitations can break down the barriers I have put around it.  I welcome the healing, even when it must come through ailment.  May we all find healing despite ourselves.

Back in blogland

Welcome back to my blog, any readers who might still be out there!  After my extended and unintended blogging hiatus, I am reviving this old space, hoping to post (at least) weekly as a counterpart to my reading-intensive schedule this year (read: comprehensive exams).  Posts should go out Sunday nights.  Here’s to hoping grad school hasn’t sapped all the non-academic writing out of me for good!