Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Church of the Front Porch

     I attended the Church of the Front Porch today. We have had two consecutive days of sunshine and I didn’t want to miss any of it. I hope God didn’t mind that I spent the morning with a devotional book on my lap turning pages and thinking about what it means to be a child of God all the while glancing up occasionally to find the mockingbird who was singing saucily from the walnut tree, or to look for the redwing blackbird I could hear warbling in the wetland. As an artist, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to have someone enjoy, really enjoy my work. I hope God feels the same way because that’s what my worship was about this morning.
     Yesterday was the last day of shearing. What a relief to have gathered all the lambs and ewes in to count, worm and shear and find, so far, none missing. Coyotes are having pups this time of year and fresh lamb makes an easy breakfast for mama coyote. Some coyotes kill for food, but there are others who kill just for the sport of it. My friend Cindy, the one who has a llama on patrol, found six dead lambs the other day. The trapper told her that the coyotes must have come in a pack so the llama couldn’t defend against all of them. The lambs weren’t eaten, just slaughtered and left scattered about the field. I love God’s creation, but it’s hard to love coyotes who kill for pleasure. I suppose God loves them, though. They are as much a part of His creation as those blackbirds I enjoyed.
     Two nights ago, Joe drove me through a horrible storm to the emergency room. I had been fighting some back pain for 24 hours and it finally got the best of me. Joe said he’s never seen such weather, but I didn’t notice much of it from my fetal position in the front seat. After ten hours in the emergency room and a CAT scan, the doctor still couldn’t tell me why I had felt such hot knives stabbing me in my right side. There was no evidence of kidney stones or appendicitis to give truth to my overwhelming pain. By morning it had subsided, leaving me relieved and appreciative of every good day in my life.
     This morning on the porch, I thought about God’s presence in my pain. It’s a place I hate to go to, but I have discovered sometimes I find God most clearly in the hurting places. Pain, whether physical or emotional, is like those coyotes: uncontrollable. And because I cannot control it, I must wait it out. In the waiting, I am emptied totally of myself. I see God most clearly when I am empty. There’s nothing else to stand in the way of His love.

At the Church of the Front Porch this morning, I was reminded of these words by Sir Thomas Brown:

If thou could`st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, `This is not dead`,
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes, He says, `This is enow
Unto itself - `twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for me.`

I am a little emptier and yet, much fuller this morning.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Old Bones

     I love rocks. They are the bones of this old earth, slowly wearing down to mineral and soil and they speak to some place deep in my own bones. I can name them when I see them, although only with their familiar names, not their lineage names. Metamorphic, igneous, sedimentary…that is the extent of my scientific knowledge. I love limestone because it forms the backbone of my county; visible on some ridge tops like the knobs of vertebrae in a malnourished child. Over time, the vertebra weather off in chunks and tumble down the mountain to the fertile valleys below bringing the curiosity of fossils imprinted in their rugged sides. Seashells, snails, sponges and corals live forever in reverse depressions where they died and decayed. Our mountains were once under a shallow sea.
     The creek behind my house is not the kind of creek that graces the covers of gardening magazines. It comes down from the mountain through our open pasture at a pretty steep pitch. When we first moved here twenty four years ago, the water ran in a shallow channel close to the top of the ground, but over time it has carved itself down into a deep trench, lined with the rocky rubble of spring floods which have washed away the loose soil leaving a creek bed that is over eight feet deep in places. I planted willows in the eroding banks to stabilize them, but even they washed to lower ground and rooted at the bottom of the channel with their roots tucked in the rocky rubble. Then last week, after four inches of rain in less than three hours, the creek brought boulders from the top of the mountain down into our deep channel and filled it back up again. I went out this evening to inspect the treasures carried down from the mountain top. There were sandstone boulders bigger than a border collie and deep beds of gravel and sand. If you look carefully at the edges of the creek you can find evidence of the bed shifting back and forth over time, a pattern that repeatedly reveals and re-covers the bones of the earth.
     As I picked my way across the mounds of rocky rubble I found three perfect flat rocks. I threw them to the bank and later I will carry them to the house and complete the path through my secret garden. There were some small fossils: crinoids, porifera, and scallops, but after sorting through them I didn’t find anything that I didn’t already have, so I tossed them back into their gravelly beds.

      I located several large squarish rocks which hopefully Dan, who is getting ready to rebuild the retaining wall beside our root cellar, will find useful. I found a heart shaped rock, which I tucked into a pocket to carry back to the house. I’ve been collecting them for years now and when I die, I imagine a geologist hundreds of years in the future pondering the preponderance of heart shaped rocks in the area. I found a piece of gray shale, small and warm and breathed on it just for the smell of earth that rises off of shale when it is warm and moist, and I found a chunk of slate with white lines of quartz criss-crossing its face. A wishing rock. I’ll save it for when I really need a wish.

     When Joe and I were first married, he used to show up at the house with unusual rocks. He understood and supported my obsession. These were gifts that I treasured from him even more than the diamond I wear on my left hand. They meant that as he wandered the farm and fields, I was on his mind. His gifts are the stepping stones in my garden, and the edging of my garden beds.
     As I came back in the house, my pockets full of rocks, I happened to glance at the edge of the sidewalk where years ago, I traced an outline of each of our hands as a pattern for a friend who cut them out of stained glass. We celebrated the completion of the house by pressing them carefully into the wet cement of our new sidewalk. After fifteen years in the weather, they like the bones of the mountain, are chipping up and breaking apart. It’s comforting to consider that they will never really disappear. Instead, they will become part of the bones of this old earth, and maybe one day, a new woman digging carefully in her flower beds will find a very small chunk of green glass. She will wonder about its origins and then tuck it into her pocket next to the heart shaped rock she found buried beside it.