Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Milly's Hay Adventure

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Milly Rose who liked playing inside more than she liked playing outside. Her imagination seemed to run better when playing with her plastic kitchen set inside, than when she tried to create an alternate reality for herself between the evergreen trees and the fencepost outside.

So the days would go by, with the little girl very rarely venturing out into the sunshine, except to play with her doll on a picnic blanket under the maple tree, or jump on the trampoline in the windy sunlight. Then, just as the summer had reached its very hottest, the little girl, with her many brothers and sisters and Mama and Daddy, loaded up in a long white van to drive down through Memphis, and Little Rock, and Mena, to get to Grandma Jane's and Grandpa Riley's house.

They lived in the country. They didn't even have wireless internet, or fast computers, or nintendo, or cable TV, or any movies except old Westerns and black-and-white romances. They did have the church-house where Grandpa Riley preached right down the dirt road. They had horses and saddles, guns and bows-and-arrows, a swimming hole down in Cow Creek and pasture-lands with the promise of mad bulls and ticks. They had woods that were haunted by Bigfoot and wild boar and armadillo, and a log cabin where Aunt Sherry would make them chocolate milk. All the cousins lived down there, too. They loved the outdoors. The little girl who liked to the relaxation of the indoors was amazed by their tanned skin, wiry muscles, and great athletic abilities. They could outrun her in a flash. They could saddle up a horse by themselves, and even gallop bare-back. They could ride the bucking mule named John. And they could all drive the standard transmission pickup truck, even though they were all not even in their teens yet.

They were also very good at outsmarting Milly and her little sister, Gretchen. The cousins, Sara, who had feisty brown eyes and a flashing white grin, David-Riley, whose wiry physique boasted the fastest runner of the lot, and Milly's older brother, Benjamin, who was a pale, slight boy with a giant, brainy imagination, could read and spell, whereas Milly was still learning. They would give secret messages to each other in front of Milly by strange codes, like 'Let's go play at the C-H-U-R-C-H', and then they would run off so quickly that they soon lost Milly. She would huff and puff after them, her plump little face growing beet-red, her little lungs becoming hyper-active. Soon she would be forced to sit down beside the dirt road and try to parse out what C-H-U-R-C-H could possibly mean, since she couldn't keep up with them. Once she had found from her older siblings Annie and Alex that C-H makes a certain sound, and that 'church' was the only word that had that sound on either end, Benjamin had the bright idea to start spelling foreign translations of the word, like K-I-R-K. And that completely lost her.

Milly was a smart little girl, however, and she told Mama about it. Mama, her hazel eyes sparkling and her pretty pink mouth twitching with suppressed laughter, scolded Benjamin and Sara and David-Riley. Milly felt a little guilty for being a tattle-tell when she saw how sorry they all looked, even though Mama had always said that tattle-telling was a good thing.

So the cousins and Benjamin began to take Milly and Gretchen along with them to play. The little baby, Jeremiah, who was just starting to leave Mama's arms to toddle around, was still too young to join in.

The children's favorite haunt was the old barn on the Chattam place. It was cluttered with old boxes full of antiques and fiddleback spiders, rusted tin barrels of oats for the horses, leathery-smelling bridles and saddles, and, most importantly, an utterly mountainous construction of hay bales reaching all the way up to the peaked roof. The cousins would easily hop onto an old trailer hitch and tumble up onto the hay bales, stacked seven feet deep, and then they would laugh as Milly and Gretchen tried many times to jump up only to slide right back down. Finally, though, they helped them up.

Then the festivities began. The hay bales, squishy and sweet-smelling under their feet, had all sorts of pathways, hiding places, and precarious holes from where the tractor had pulled hay down to feed the cows and horses and the bales had fallen. The children loved to play tag up there. Milly, who could not run fast, and had a tendency to get the giggles so hard she was incapacitated, found that hiding was much more effective than running away, and so she would creep around corners and duck under bales while the rest had dashing races around the hay palace, catapulting over the holes in the hay as they ran.

But such tactics could not last long, especially once David-Riley found out about them, and, next time David-Riley got tagged It, Milly found herself huffing and puffing, running for her life, and falling down in terror as David-Riley leaped gracefully up to tag her. The bell of doom had tolled. She was It, and she knew in her heart-of-hearts that she would never be able to tag David-Riley, Sara, Benjamin, or even Gretchen. Especially since she was mortally afraid of stepping on one of the cracks in the hay bales and slipping down into the mouldy grey tempests beneath.

Milly's mama was a very good and attentive mama, and had read her all the old fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Bears, and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but Milly was unfortunately not so good and attentive. She, though she had heard about the boy who cried wolf, and knew what happened to him, did not heed the moral of the story. Knowing that in order to not be It until the end of the game, she would have to outsmart everyone else. She therefore decided that, once everyone had run off and hid, she would scream and wail that she had fallen down into the hay. The first time she started fake crying and yelling 'Help! Help!' Sara, David-Riley, Ben, and Gretchen all came flying out of their hiding places. Milly made mad dashes toward them, but even after the trickery she could not tag them.

They scoffed at Milly's fakery as they ran away, leaving her out of breath and at a loss behind them. She waited a little while, and then she again started wailing and crying, 'Help! Help! I've fallen down in the hay!' The other children ran to help her, and, as they came into sight, Milly again dashed off after the closest, trying to tag somebody. They easily outran her, but she kept on puffing and huffing after them, running around and around on the prickly hay bales.

Then she fell. Down, down into the hay bales she slipped. She saw the golden-grey hay close over her head. She felt one foot touch the hay bale beneath and the other foot slip down even deeper.

She screamed.

She wailed.

She cried.

But neither Sara nor David-Riley nor Benjamin nor Gretchen would believe her. Then she wept, and the other children, realizing that she was not joking this time, ran to her assistance.

Milly was terrified. Mama and Grandpa Riley had told her how snakes liked to live in the hay bales, and how one must be very careful in the barn because of the fiddleback spiders and black widows that made their home there. The sunlight seemed very far above her, and silhouetted against that light were the worried faces of the other children, staring down into Milly's misfortune.

Milly cried and cried, and reached up her hands to be pulled out, but none of the other children were strong enough to pull her out. She felt as if she could not breathe, and suddenly, added to her terror of creepy-crawly things was the fear that she might suffocate down there packed in the hay bales. Her legs gave way under her, and she sank down upon her knees, tears blinding her eyes, her long brown hair tangled up in the hay.

The children couldn't manage to get her out, and so Milly started yelling, 'Go get Alex! Go get Alex! Please, go get Alex!' Alex was Milly's older brother, who, at the very old age of thirteen, had started lifting weights and, in Milly's seven-year-old mind, could accomplish anything.

Sara thought that was the best idea, and, jumping nimbly off the hay bales, took a dashing Tom Sawyer run for the log cabin, where Alex and Annie and the grown-up cousins were playing board games. Meanwhile David-Riley, always finding the humor in the situation, started trying to persuade Gretchen that it was really fun down in the midst of the hay bales. It was like a different universe, he said. Milly, her blue eyes spouting fire and tears as she glared up at them, very vehemently told Gretchen to not listen to him.

And then Benjamin announced that Alex was coming, running behind Sara, and in five minutes he had leapt up onto the hay bales, taken Milly's soft, pale little hands, and had pulled her out of her golden-grey grave. Alex, trying not to laugh, told her that she was perfectly all right and that it really was not worth all those tears. Milly did not believe him, for he had not experienced it. But she dried her tears by and by, and then, with slow dignity, walked to the log cabin, her hair covered in hay and her little eyebrows red. She had experienced her first trauma, and had come through determined never to play trickery again.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Psalm 133

How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers in unity!

It is like a fine oil on the head, running down the beard,

running down Aaron's beard, onto the collar of his robes.

It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the heights of Zion;

for there Yahweh bestows his blessing, everlasting life.

The psalm is beautiful, profound. And yet there is a more distinctive meaning to this poetic exclamation than what is represented in our current English translations. 'To live as brothers in unity', in the original language, is achim yashab yachad, namely, to 'sit down at meal as brothers in unity.' When one puts this meaning to the first line, the following four lines take on whole new purport.

Is eating together so blissful and important as what this psalm communicates? Certainly in our culture the age-old tradition of sitting down together at a homemade meal as a family has been mostly forgotten.

Yet in the Bible, we find that the concept of the Meal is attended to in something of a sacred light. In the Old Testament records eating together was often symbolic of the spiritual. The very earliest chapters of the history of the world deals with food, and expostulates that before the Fall the fruit of the earth was a spiritual substance as well as a material substance. With the eating of forbidden fruit, Adam and Hevah knew good and evil, and were expelled to be prevented from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, and thus living forever.

This treatment of food as both spiritual and material continues. Abraham, when visited by Yahweh, feeds him a meal, and is given in return a blessing and a prophesy. When visited later by Melchizedek, the first High Priest, whose name means, literally, 'King of Righteousness', Abraham gives him the first documented tithe––ten percent of all he has; then Melchizedek, in return, feeds him bread and wine, thus showing forth the Eucharist which Jesus, the 'High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek' (Hebrews 5), will institute.

Afterwards, in the establishing of the Mosaic Law, Yahweh uses food as an integral part of His people's worship. He ordained His Temple to be a place that had fresh bread forever in His presence. The people's sins were to be paid for, their diseases to be healed, through the sacrificing of animals, through the burning of meat, and through grain offerings. The priests were to eat the acceptable parts of each offering. The congregation was to offer all the first fruits of their land as a sacred offering to Yahweh. Their years were to be filled with feasts and fasts which celebrated and recalled the sacred history of God. Their diet was to be one of purity and health, forbearing from unclean animals and vulgar substances rigidly, at risk of being expelled from God's favor if they disobeyed. God promised to reward their faithfulness with abounding harvests and to punish their spiritual adultery with devastating famines.

When the Christ came into the world, He also spoke of the spirit integrated in food. He proclaimed Himself the Bread of Life, and the One who gives Living Water. He established the Eucharist as the central sacrament in the Way, in which we partake of bread and wine that He pronounced His body and His blood. This eating of His flesh and blood is the action that He said would give us life in this world, and would make us 'live forever'. (John 6)

After Jesus' resurrection and flight into the sky, the apostles, as part of their constant worship of Him, practiced communion together at every gathering. They fasted twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, in order to draw closer to Jesus. They kept the feasts, in remembrance of the miracles that Elohim had done for them. They instituted new feasts and fasts, to celebrate and recall the new wonders that Jesus had worked in and for them. They looked forward to the Heavenly Feast, the Supper of the Lamb, where we are to commune with the Creator of all, as is bespoken in John's revelation.

Such regard for the spiritual heart of the Meal has been lost to our society. Eating is a substance used for pleasure and sustenance, but not for spiritual benefit or the building of relationship. We call ourselves followers of the Way, and yet we have lost belief in the sacredness of the Eucharist, we have deserted the celebrating of the Holy-Days and the feasts and fasts of the Church in favor of secular holidays and traditions, and we have even deserted the delight that is found daily when 'brothers eat together in unity'.

Let us once again vow to recognize the weight of glory in even the most ordinary things of life. For there is life in communion.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Feast of Shelters

Yahweh ordered His Chosen People to observe certain fasts and feasts. One of the latter was called the Feast of Shelters, and in it, the Jews would pack up and go live in tents for a week at the river-side, feasting and praising God for the harvest of olives and grapes. This Labor Day weekend, my siblings and friends and I were blessed to experience a camping trip that in many ways resembled the holy-day of antiquity.

After spending a day of packing, we all loaded up to drive three hours down winding mountain roads to the Ocoee River. The weather promised warmth as the mountainous beauty on our left and the sparkling blue of the river on our right delighted us. We stopped at the Thunder Rock camping site, where we built our temporary home in the midst of the beautiful hilly terrain. After we were settled in, we all embarked on a hike through the Smoky Mountains. The splendor of our surroundings amazed us, proclaiming the beauty of God inherent in His creative Fiat. The trees clapped their hands in praise of Him. The rocks cried out with joy at His goodness.

We wound our way through the sylvan scenery, climbing a steep trail of rustic dirt, wild stone steps, naturally-occurring bridges, and fallen tree trunks. Throughout we skirted the cliff to our left, while to our right the mountain wall guided us. As we trudged through the beautiful greens and browns, we morphed into Arwen and Eowyn and Legolas and Aragorn, traveling through the woods outside the Shire, finding large mushrooms and oak leaves and healing barks.

Once back at camp, I had the opportunity to reminisce on Laura Ingalls Wilder as I experienced the joys and sorrows of frying potatoes, grilling chicken, and steaming squash over an open fire. Then eating the food out-of-doors. Then walking a ways to the hand pump to wash the dishes and lay them out to dry on a rock. I must admit I enjoyed every minute of it.

The next morning we went rafting down the Ocoee River, in gear and a raft that was much safer and more convenient than the raft Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer got to use. It was lovely. Our guide was very pleasant, and the weather perfect. The blue sky, the silver water, the green foliage and mountains on either side, the grey rocks, the white foam, the warm golden sun. The energy and vitality inherent in the fast flow, the rowing, the spraying, the splashing, the swimming, the near-capsizing experiences. As we wound to the end our guide allowed us to jump in the water and float, with careful instructions to get out before we got to the rapids. I didn't understand quite rightly, and was floating quite carefree along when suddenly I realized I would lack the strength to swim against the current and into the dock. So I struggled to the bank, grabbed a tree branch, and dragged myself onto the rocks before the current washed me away. Needless to say, it was a great deal of fun.

We came back, and sat by the smoldering ashes all afternoon, talking, resting, sleeping. When the sun had crept below the trees, we stirred from our nests for another scrumptious feast, and then a beautiful time gathered around a roaring campfire. Two mandolins and a guitar accompanied our voices as we sang hymns, and then listened to the instruments make their own music. The twilight sank deeper around us. The fire burnt orange in the lavender dusk. When the sun had quite sunk and our supper was settled comfortably, a couple of us took the lantern across the way to our pantry (or the trunk of the car), where we retrieved our s'more ingredients. The boys carved sticks for everyone, and soon we were all seated in our chairs, concentrating on the precarious pastime of roasting marshmallows to a place of perfection without catching them on fire or letting them fall off the stick. And then, oh, the sweetness of that golden marshmallow combined with chocolate-almond spread, melted dark chocolate, and graham crackers! Delicious.

The next morning we all awoke chilled to the bone. We groggily moved around the camp-fire, bundled up in our hoodies and fuzzy socks, rekindling the fires and getting breakfast started. The sun came out from the horizon, melting the chilled dew from the grass, imbuing our pale, cold selves with golden warmth. The fire began to blaze, the potatoes and french toast sizzled in the cast-iron skillets. We became warm and vivacious as we gathered around the picnic table for the last feast of our delightful weekend. It was good.

Afterwards we took our seats around the campfire for a time of prayer, scriptural study, praise, and observance of the Eucharist. As we partook of the Body and Blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit felt so closely present in the rustic beauty of that mountain forest. Afterwards we remembered afresh the power of the love and fellowship that only Christ can give as we all worked to pack up our sleeping bags, tents, kitchen, and other various and sundry items. The lovely homeliness of our temporary home slowly crept back into the boxes and bins in the back of the van and the pickup truck.

But before we could drive away, we all felt that we must have one more ramble in the loveliness of the wilderness. So, little brother led us down the dirt road to his favorite rock-climbing spot. He climbed up the mossy, rocky steep, and then we all climbed up beside him. The ascent was fairly easy and very fun, but the descent was quite a different picture. After hanging on for dear life to a tree trunk, a root, and then having exhausted every foothold, I had to consent to sit on older brother's shoulder and be carried in order to reach the ground quite safely.

After this adventure, we ran, skipped, and then attempted to click our heels on our way back down the dirt road. To end our celebration, we spent a lovely half-hour on the river-shore, sitting on the very edge of the rocks, folding our pant-legs up, and plunging our feet into the rushing waves. What bliss and splendor we found in the warmth of the rocks, the cold fury of the water, the fresh breeze, and the invigorating sun. We felt how truly wonder-full is Elohim's creation. And yet this beauty we see only as through a looking-glass darkly. Let us look forward to the time when we shall see clearly, face-to-face, the Beautiful Imagination of the God who is Love.

And thus our Feast of Shelters came to a lovely conclusion.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Earth-Riddle

We all feel the riddle of the earth without anyone to point it out. Every stone or flower is a hieroglyphic of which we have lost the key; with every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand.
- G.K. Chesterton