Tuesday, July 27, 2010

honest opinions

I came across this commentary as I was reading Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers.  Although it was written in the 1850's, I suppose its point of view is just as valid today.  It's hard to stomach, but one that a preacher surely needs never to forget.  I wonder for how many the tedium from the preaching clergyman is the reason they feel "forced to stay away" from church.  Probably many.  I know I often grow weary of hearing myself in the pulpit.  What I also find interesting, on another level, is the professions to which the preaching clergyman are compared in this paragraph:

"There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilised and free countries, than the necessity of listening to sermons.  No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented.  No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanor as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips.  Let a professor of law or physic find his place in a lecture-room, and their pour forth jejune words and useless empty phrases, and he will pour them forth to empty benches.  Let a barrister attempt to talk without talking well, and he will talk but seldom.  A judge's charge need be listened to per force by none but the jury, prisoner, and gaoler.  A member of Parliament can be coughed down or counted out.  Town-councillors can be tabooed.  But no one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman.  He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sinbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday's rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God's service distasteful.  We are not forced into church!  No: but we desire more than that.  We desire not to be forced to stay away.  We desire, nay we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship; but we desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for escape, which is the common consequence of common sermons."

Yikes.  And yet too true, I fear.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

theology of summer gardening

We have more cucumbers than we know what to do with.  In a week, I suspect tomatoes will start giving us the same problem.  Really, I'm not complaining.  It's a good problem to have, and we only have it because I've spent so much time watering our garden in the midst of this drought.  Those who rely on their own agriculture to survive know how devastating a dry summer can be.  I will gladly eat cucumbers every day of the week.

Our first-ever vegetable garden has added an educational edge to this spring and summer.  I have not only watered and weeded fastidiously, but I have also wondered at the strenuous task of planting and cultivating crops.  I have nurtured a deeper admiration and appreciation for the farmers who live and die by this kind of toil, and I savor the produce I purchase in the supermarket--or in the roadside stand--all the more.  It is not only hard work (and I only have an 8 x 8 plot!), but it is an anxiety-producing one.  There is both so much for the cultivator to do...and also so much over which he has no control.  It is easy to curse nature.  But it also provides more opportunity to bless and thank God.  There are fewer things that set us apart more from the rest of God's creatures.  Humans cultivate.  They don't just chase food; they entice the soil to produce it.

As I was reading in an old text from seminary days, I came across this paragraph discussing part of what it means to say that humans are created in the "image of God":
In a variety of ways--through the cultivation of the earth, through craftsmanship, through the writing of books and the painting of ikons--man gives materal things a voice and renders the creation articulate in praise of God.  It is significant that the first task of the newly-created Adam was to give names to the animals (Gen. 2:19-20).  The giving of names is in itself a creative act: until we have found a name for some object or experience, an "inevitable word" to indicate its true character, we cannot begin to understand it and to make use of it.  It is likewise significant that, when at the Eucharist we offer back to God the firstfruits of the earth, we offer them not in their original form but reshaped by the hand of man: we bring to the altar not sheaves of wheat but loaves of bread, not grapes but wine.

So man is priest of the creation through his power to give thanks and to offer the creation back to God; and he is king of the creation through his power to mould and fashion, to connect and diversify...  (The Orthodox Way, Bishop Callistos Ware, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995. p 54)
Too many cucumbers is a good problem to have.  And apparently the very task of gardening is a privilege, too.  As I placed the seeds into the soil and added the fertilizer, as I staked the vines and clipped the ripe fruit, as I took the vegetables inside and transformed them into something unique and tasty, I borrowed from the experience of millions before me who sought to make creation sing in this remarkable way.  The Italians' word for worship is "il culto," from the Latin root for "to cultivate." It makes sense: in the liturgy we are cultivated to give God proper praise. But apparently the mere act of cultivating the soil and its fruits--fashioning and moulding what God has given--is a role of our worship, too.  It is our blessed human way of helping the earth praise its Creator. 

I must admit, though, that when I've been picking the cabbage loopers off my broccoli plants and throwing them over my shoulder to feed the bluebirds in my yard, I've not really thought of myself as a "priest of creation."  I tend to think of my priestly duties as confined to the altar where I pass out bread and wine and to the pulpit where I toss out words from Scripture.  Then again, five months ago my 8 x 8 plot was but a mere section of sod.  Now it gives birth to all kinds of good things which can be fashioned and moulded to eat and enjoy.  It has been a more holy task than I've given it credit for.