Wednesday, November 15, 2006

# 199 THE RIGHTEOUS FOREST - Conclusion


Stumps are an ugly business when forests are raped and pillaged in great croppings. But the stumps in the Righteous Forest were such a small group, there was beauty in them. Something sweetly appealing in the texture of the bark spotted with silken moss and the color of the exposed wood.

It’s hard to explain but I’ve always had a fondness for raw wood. Finding an undeniable attraction in the warm earthiness of wooden tea crates, apple crates, and wooden spoons. My best drawing pencil that flawlessly formed smooth curves and smart lines was a bit of unvarnished raw wood with a lead sunk down the middle. Even now I have a grand collection of wooden spoons in a large clay pot on my kitchen counter. Everyone always wants to throw out that one large spoon. The one that lacks symmetry, the one with the thick handle, with flawed markings, and looking as if it were carved with a rough stone rather than a sharp blade. But that spoon has character, and girth, and strength. It has come down through ages and ages companioned by a wooden cutting board now so worn with use that there is a distinctive dip in the middle of it. But when I fold my fingers around that spoon and run my palm over the sheen of that well-worn cutting board, they transfer their strength to me. The security of longevity verging on the very cusp of an infinite existence. That’s the beauty of wood and an awkward description of the ambiance to be found in a grove of stumps. Towering trees are arrogant and proud. Stumps have humility that gives them their own distinctive beauty. And let’s face it. We can not have a Righteous Forest populated by arrogance. Only the swell of meekness and humility can appropriately represent the righteousness we seek.

It never occurred to me until this very moment how those stumps in my Righteous Forest impacted my life for all time. Under the snow fall in my yard right now you can see my complex arrangement of stumps that every summer support clay pots of petunias, pansies, and the like (much to Hub’s chagrin). There are not now and never have been any ornate polished or painted columns to support flowerpots in my yard. Stumps provide for me that blend of nature that I am looking for.

But I digress. We originally started this exposé with thoughts about speaking in tongues and that is what I want to return to for the moment.

Did my mother ever speak in tongues? Know what? If she did, I’ve never heard her and amazingly in all our discussions about God, the subject never came up. But even at that, my mother’s religion was a certain thing to me. Yet she never demonstrated her faith in an overt way. She never positioned herself in a front pew waving her arms in the air and yelling out praises. She never worked a prayer altar. And as far as I know, she never spoke in tongues. She was invisible in public and invisible in church. But yet I did hear her pray daily at home for healing and help for others. For herself, her own needs? Nah. In tough times, she could have prayed for a bit more food, but she didn’t, because in her humble mind, frozen turnips were sufficient. A blessing to be grateful for.

And my mother was the one practicing member of the church that I knew intimately in her home life as well as her church life. And I knew she held no anger, no envy, no malice. Material wealth was unimportant. But I also knew that before she had reached a ripe old age, she was physically and mentally exhausted from heavy burdens and daily cares. But even at that, she continued smiling with an every present joy that stemmed from a passion for living that had little to do with anything but the beauty and love of children and creation. Her attitude was so difficult to comprehend and so impossible to model. But our Pastor had me believing that if I ever spoke in tongues I would have that extra measure of grace from God that would make it so much easier to stay the course and sidetrack the world. A path so much easier than the briars my mother maneuvered through. Although my mother may have never spoke in tongues, she was more alive to righteous needs than physical needs. She awoke every morning and lived each day as if it were the scheduled for the Resurrection immediately after washing up for breakfast.

But returning to the Righteous Forest, I know it takes more than a cathedral, with green velvet drapes all round and a warm spotlight on the podium descending directly from the heavens, for magic to happen. Rituals can be observed but no magic will happen if thinking is not geared to more fundamental stuff. And to me those fundamentals are “humility” and “faith”. So to my small flock this is what I must explain.

Now in my younger years I tested God. Always wanting a sign. I started out commanding hills to be moved. Fully expecting it to happen. But in my test scenarios, when the mountains weren’t moved (i.e. the ski hill that was inconveniently some distance from the house that I wanted moved closer to home), I went to simple tests. Praying for water in a can, or an open book to be altered to a different page during the night. The old human nature assuming that if a task can’t be done, then a simpler easier task needs to be substituted.

And so when I complained to my mother that my tests were not working my mother returned to what I call, the ‘frozen turnip theory’.

‘Why would someone who created the world and life within it, who loves and protects our every move, who offers us the magic of nature to gaze in wonderment on each and every day, oblige us with anything more to assert his power? What more could we want?’ (Similarly, why would one plead for food with a cellar overflowing with frozen turnips?)

So now I looked questioningly out over my stump congregation. I could not help feeling a bit annoyed with Hazel. She seemed to be as distracting as a wailing baby in church with her attention focused on that sepulchered-finger pointing upwards. But yet, as I spoke, with my own remembered pain of exclusion at summer camp, I attempted to include her. To direct attention to her corner as well so that she would not feel the exclusion I had felt.

I continued talking about the church minister’s perspective on faith that was so different from that of my mother. He was forever insisting that if the expected doesn’t happen, that is no reflection on God’s power. It is we who err though lack of faith. The minister at camp admonished me (in a way that was deeply hurtful) that I could speak in tongues if I only had greater faith. And always he left me wondering why he engaged in long repetitive sessions of thanks for a miracle that had not yet occurred. Is this how faith is to be demonstrated? By repetitive thanks over and over as if speaking with a deaf God? And here I saw Hazel blink.

Okay, so how does one demonstrate ‘faith’? Mother’s simple answer was to have a confident belief that something would happen, realizing that the happening would not necessarily be of our choosing. It would be God’s choice. That meant that the miracle we wanted might come disguised. So if the happening was not what I expected how was I to discover when the God-given event took place? I might not know ever. But is that a bad thing? To sidestep all the complexity of how and what and when and why and just have a simple faith, like my mother’s, that I am in his care.

Now going back to the Minister’s perspective let us just consider how this appears. If you have rock-solid faith that your friend will remember your birthday with a gift, would you call her up a week ahead of time and thank her for the gift? How despicable and arrogant would that be? Somehow it doesn’t seem right to me. If we are to honor the Creator we need to be humble and subject to him and humility is not happening with assumptions, prior to receiving a gift, are made about when and what and where. It seems that this kind of demonstration of faith warps the whole process. There is of course an obvious advantage. This kind of thinking allows the Petitioner to take/think/assume they have the control in deciding what the Controller will do, and when and how they will do it.

It was a discussion far from finished when my podium suddenly darkened and I saw a black cloud thundering across the sky. Hazel, of course, was the first to point it out. The wind was fast rising and so I hurried to a final benediction. I raised my hands out over my faithful stumps and gave thanks for my mother’s special gift of faith, the miracle of my imagination, and the fantasies that invariably guide the interpretation of truth. And I gave thanks for frozen turnips.

Yes, I will return to this special place but not to plead for speaking in tongues. That is the blessing I sought, but I believe now God’s choice for me was something different. And so my particular blessing came disguised as something else. Like my mother said, it was up to God to choose ultimately what blessing was appropriate for me. And with that I am well satisfied. But still I will return to my Righteous Forest to reflect, pray, contemplate, and give thanks that will parallel the ‘frozen turnip theory’ (for that which I already have rather than what I want).

Rain was now frantically descending from the sky and as I dashed away, Hazel caught at my skirt and tugged it with her long pointing finger. I turned to free my skirt as while doing so I folded my fingers over the raw scarred wood of her sepulchered hand. And in that brief moment we both realized our mutual appreciation for what we had gained in our ‘sharing’ of the Righteous Forest.


Blogger Julie Oakley said...

Wonderful - I have so enjoyed following this story. Your writing is so engaging - it's a joy to read your thoughts.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Thanks for sticking with me, julie. Glad you enjoyed the story. I was quite concerned you might feel disappointed.

9:50 PM  
Blogger the old bag said...

I love this series! It's so full of life and imagination and all those things with which, as children (hmm, and adults!), we struggle to make sense.

And craggy Hazel...bless her soul. Those who blink contemplate deeply.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi OB (jeannie), I'm so glad you commented. I once heard a writer interviewed on T.V. that said writing can be as tough as crawling the length of a football field on ones knees on broken glass. This rant was tough to write. And although it explores truths that sometimes overlap into fantasies, most of it is ripped up chards of my very soul. So I am grateful you took the time to read, comment, and pleased you enjoyed it. There is much to be considered in the truth of your observation about those who 'blink'.

Enough to write several more chapters but right now I just can't.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

OOps, spelling correction -- that should have been 'shards' rather than 'chards'.

1:20 PM  

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