Marriage Letter: What You Call Holy

On the first Monday of each month, Amber and I are writing marriage letters to each other. Sure, there are qualified experts who've written well about marriage, but we're writing into our marriage. After you read my letter follow me to Amber's blog, where she's sharing her Marriage Letter and inviting you to participate in writing your own.

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Amber,

You leaned across the console from the passenger side, craning your neck across my lap and looking out the driver's side window. "Pull over!" you said, ribbing me with your left elbow, and I slid the car to the chat shoulder there by Clifty Creek. You jumped out and looked to the sky. There, two bald eagles gyred over the fresh rain-fed waters looking to harvest perch or bream. It was the bleak mid-winter, and the Clifty valley was thick with the smell of sawdust and the smoke of home fires. The backroad was empty, and we stood, watching the eagles in their element. After a few minutes I turned to ask whether you were ready to go, and I noticed how your eyes were filled with the glory of God. In the car you hummed "This is My Father's World," and I knew you'd had a holy moment.

When we were first married, I accepted a job as a youth minister, and we moved to a patch of concrete on the outskirts of Tulsa. Wildlife sightings were rare in those days with the exception of the occasional sparrows roosting in the Applebee Apartment tree that shaded my car. (Thank goodness for the automatic carwash across the street.) You were not made for this sort of city living, you said, and reminded me that you were only ever used to seeing the deer and coyotes running through the Alabama fields.

On a rare weekend getaway, we kicked up a dust cloud down an old dirt road near Grand Lake. It was dusk, and without warning a herd of mule deer sprung from the thicket on the passenger's side of the car. I slammed on my brakes as buck and doe hurdled the hood. We skidded to a stop and after the last of the herd passed, I checked my pants to make sure I hadn't wet myself. I turned to you, making sure you'd not suffered whiplash, but you sat broad-smiled and clapping. "Deer! Deer!" you said like a little girl riding shotgun with your daddy. Then you whispered, "thank you, Jesus."

By Clifty Creek and Grand Lake, you saw through the natural order and into the supernatural. As long as I've known you, you've been this way. Yours is not the seeing of a time-wisened woman or some mystic desert mother. Yours is a simpler seeing, the seeing of the world with little girl eyes. It's in this seeing you remind me that we are sharing sacred, gifted space.

You've cradled four newborn children now, each wearing drying afterbirth and crying. You smiled the smile known only to mothers and hospice workers, the smile of ushering a life into a new world. You've said, "hey there; hey there; it's okay," to each of bawling babies. Staring into their blurry brown eyes (except Isaac's, which were always blue), you welcomed them into this sacred world where the natural order points always to the supernatural. First priestess, you cradled and fed them gifts of God for the people of God. Your body has been a miracle, and this is not lost on you. The way you've seen it, you've been given a quadruple foretaste of the Holy of Holies.

What do you call holy? The eagle on the whirling currents; the deer flushed from the thicket; the baby taking nourishment at the breast--these inform your understanding of holy. You do not call them holy because they are God. Instead you know them as best chalices, the vessels that carry forth the Word of creation to the people of God. "This was the intent of all creation," you might say, "to point to the ultimate Creator."

So, stop me again by Clifty Creek. Clap with doe-eyed wonder at the springing deer. And though I'll not see the smile of newborn wonder curl your lips again, smile radiant if I beat you to the hospice bed. There, remind me that the wonders of our world were only the foreshadowing of the best present, the eternal chorus of "Holy! Holy! Holy!"

Love,

Seth

*****

Do you subscribe to my monthly Tiny Letter newsletter? In January's Tiny Letter, I'm discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I write about some recent changes in the Haines' household, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Sign up and I'll send you a copy of January's letter, along with all future Tiny Letters!

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Friday Journal: The World Keeps A'Working

It's been a peaceful time here at the Tiny Farm. Last weekend, Titus and I walked the property with my camera, and we tried to capture the close of summer and the coming autumn. We are in a season of change, there is no doubt. The pears have been picked--at least for the most part. The few stragglers cling to the trees for dear life, turn brown as the worms suck their life from the inside out, as the moths feast on the leathery, sun-tanned skin from the outside in. Every living thing eats; every living thing dies. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, "and so it goes."

Though a harvest-wasting pestilence, the pear-munching moths are a beautiful subject matter. Their wings resemble the inner-workings of a lava lamp. Waxy, round bubbles rise from the base of their wings. These moths find the deadest pears, the ones whose carcasses are easiest pickings for their winged-coyote jowls. A friend told me once that moths and coyotes should be dispatched before they reproduce. Call me a romantic, but I'd rather document than dispatch.

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One of the pear trees has been stricken by a blight. We intend to call the tree doctor and an arborist, but the truth is, this one has one root in the grave. Of dating relationships, my uncle used to say, "when the horse is dead, dismount." I think the same analogy applies to sickly pear trees. I don't expect to see this one next year unless it's in the wood-burning stove.

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The hazelnuts have clustered up together like green, leafy grapes. Truth is, I've never had a hazelnut tree, and I'm not quite sure when to pick the fruit of its effort. I looked them over for pestilence, but they appear disease and bug free. This might be a minor miracle, but then again, it might just be the nature of this exotic shrub-like tree.

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The thistles have dried up and turned to prickly skulls atop wispy bones. Titus broke the skulls off, cracked them open to reveal what looked like hair growing from the inside down to the tufted seedbed. He scattered the tufted seeds to the wind and laughed without consideration of the fact that he is planting thistles in my yard. I let him have a go at it despite the fact that this will likely create weed control problems in the next spring season. The way I see it, though, the wonder of 3 is a once in a lifetime thing, and it only lasts for a year. I'd rather not crush that wonder.

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Past the thistles, the last of the flowers are hanging on. I don't expect they'll make it more than a few weeks. I tried my best to take them in, but in the process,  Amber called through the open window. "Seth, could you help me with..." she said, and Titus and I turned toward the door, turned to the practical nuts-and-bolts of maintaining a house. The insects and seeds to continued their small work on the Tiny Farm.

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This piece of Ozark land has been working itself for many years now; I expect it will keep working itself for many more. I'm grateful for it.

BOOKS:

I noticed a roughed up copy of Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos, The Last Self-Help Book, on the bookshelf last night, pulled it down for sharts and giggles. If you haven't read much Percy, I recommend it. According to the book cover, in 1983 the New York Times said that the book was "charming, whimsical, slyly profound." Boy, were they right.

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As an aside, I'd love to package a novel in this old, pocket paperback style one day. There's something about holding this book that conjures a sense of nostalgia, and the near-hieroglyphic artwork on the cover ushers you back to a time before the Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers. As an aside to the aside, let me encourage you to do a book a favor--visit your local used bookstore and pick up an old pocket paperback (perhaps of the Sci-Fi genre); you'll be glad you did.

LINKS:

Next month, my good friend and fellow writer Preston Yancey is letting releasing his first book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again. I've read Tables and let me tell you something--that Preston Yancey can turn a phrase. Is this a book for those who struggle of fitting into their current church setting? Yes. Is it a book for the angsty, college student who's processing his or her place within the church family at large? Yes. Is it a book for Anglicans? Most definitely. The truth is, though, it's a journey book, a coming of age book, a book for everyone.

If you like a good story, fine word pictures, and some musings on the efficacy of holy icons, PREORDER TablesYou'll be glad. I promise.

MUSIC:

There are few groups I enjoy this much.

*****

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Home Behind the Sun and an Analog Resistance (Part I)

Saturday, I saw the Brilliance. In my thirties, I've seen how the best of us--even the very best of the good ones--find ourselves at the crossroads of quandary. The world can be a brutal and dark place, can't it? There are wars and rumors of wars, turmoil and rumors of turmoil. Children are objectified, hyper-sexualized for profit. The vestiges of our egocentric culture press in, distract us, inflate pride in spaces like Facebook and Twitter. Children grow sick. Spouses have affairs. Jobs come and go. Good men are stripped from the earth too soon. And these things--these ways in which the world comes up shadows--can mess with faith of any believer. They distract us, make us believe that there is too much darkness.

In the shadows of life, is there any light of God?

This weekend, I packed the car with fishing rod, a hammock, a brown-bag lunch, and a copy of Home Behind the Sun. I pulled from the driveway, headed toward the tailwaters of Beaver Lake, the sanctuary first created by God in the seven days of Genesis, and later augmented by the Corps of Engineers in 1966.  The tailwaters are a refuge of sorts...

Continue reading about the Brilliance at Amber's.

*Photo by Mike Rusch.

On Nature Groaning - Lenten Reflections

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness Psalm 96:12-13

When the earth threw its tectonic fit, the oceans rose to meet the works of our hands. Rising tides crushed ports, flowed through houses, breached the walls of our nuclear facilities. Radiation spilled into fields and retreated into the ocean, contaminated kelp, fish, and produce. In our hubris we believed that we could contain atom-fusing, but concrete and steel are no match for groans birthed in the depths of the ocean. God created the sea to be more powerful and less predictable than we would like.

There is another sea undulating in Northern Africa and the Middle East. This sea of humanity swells as if at high tide. Men in Syria shout for Allah and Freedom, stampede like the bulls in Spain. They pick up rocks and hurl them at the government. The rocks would cry out in praise if given the chance, but wild men have given the stones voices of violence instead. The goats and trees stand in the fields, see a coming war, know that they will be the casualties of it. One olive branch says to the other, “here we go again,” and they brace themselves for destruction at the hands of freedom fighters. The goats have stopped grazing and stand in the fields slack-jawed and innocent. Goats and trees always catch the residual shrapnel.

We were given stewardship of this world, I have read. But I think that in our conquests we have forgotten the value of the good earth around us. The effects of our avarice are apparent, even if accidental. Meltdowns contaminate nature. Wars rip craters into fertile soil and wipe out the wild herds that were created without the capacity for sin. Our lusts contaminate those things that were created to be perfect.

Our sin has consequences.

I am not an environmentalist, per se, but the Lenten Psalms have been thought-provoking. Why do the writers say that the fields will rejoice at Christ’s return? Why will the oceans roar and the sheep dance in the fields at his return? Perhaps the world pines for Christ’s salvation because we, in all of our depravity, have proven wholly incapable of stewarding that which was created holy. Maybe the earth groans as if in labor pains because our sin has impregnated it with the memory of Eden.

And if our sin is that apparent to nature, shouldn't it likewise be apparent to us?

This is a bit of a difficult topic. Some of you may assume that I am an environmentalist, a “give peace a chance” kind of fellah. But the truth is, the language of the Psalms seem terribly relevant in the world in which we live. So let me ask you, why do you think the psalmists personify nature? Why are we told that oceans will roar, rocks cry out, sheep dance? Does it seem more relevant today than ever before?  Am I over-nuancing this whole thing?

These are honest questions, no agenda necessary.

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Feel free to flesh this out a bit with me in the comments.  Even if you don't agree or think I'm missing something.  I'd love to sort some of this out.

**photo credit here.