The other night I was reading the Introduction to the Sacred Journey, by Frederick Buchner, the first essay in a book for a fall class and something clicked for me. Buchner opens his introduction by saying
“…theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography, and that what a theologian is doing is examining as honestly as he can the rough-and-tumble of his own experience with all its ups and downs, its mysteries, and loose ends, and expressing in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there.” Simpler Living
Compassionate Life, edited and compiled by Michael Schut, published by
Living the Good News, 2001, pg 19.
This short phrase started me thinking of my own experience, as a child, a young adult and as a now (throat clearing) mature adult. What experiences have made me who I am and have brought me to my current understanding of God? I guess if I start at the beginning I would have to say it was living with a group of dysfunctional adults that taught me to laugh at myself, and them, and then turn to what I felt at the time to be real.
I was born just after World War II, yes I’m one of the baby boomers that is going to wreck our economy, into a family that would have been called “white trash” and that was the most polite words for people like us. Yet my parents never treated their children as if we were poor. We were rich in so many ways, we may not have had money but we had friends. Friends from many cultures and races and my favorites were the Greek Orthodox families because we had two Easters and two Christmas’, think about it. It was the sharing of culture, food, and the misery we all felt in those early years after the war that gave such joy to our lives. I think the big turning point came when our family moved to a small farm near Oberlin, Ohio where I began to learn just what it meant to live in Eden.
I was five years old when the wonders of open fields, puppies, yellow chicks, sunshine, and hiding places in lilac bushes entered my life. Have you ever hidden from your sister by scrunching down in the middle of a fragrant lilac bush and giggling as she passes you by, only to be discovered by a wet nosed, hairy puppy? Or have you held a small yellow puff ball of a chick in your hand and have it peep into your ear? Before I was 6 I’d seen a cow drop her first
calf (they birth standing up by the way) and watched as the little heifer took
her first steps. I’ve seen blind puppies find their way to their mother for their first drink of life and I’ve seen chickens killed so I might eat Sunday dinner. Life and death are part of living on a farm; seeds sown in spring become yellow grain in summer and flour for a cake at Christmas. We live through the death of so much around us, and I learned that at a very early age.
I also learned accidents happen whether God wants them to or not. I was six when I accidently pulled a deep fat fryer full of hot oil down on top of me and was burnt over 75% of my body. A doctor working in a large hospital who, after reading about a small farm girl in a little town, called my parents and tells them “I coming to get your daughter, I’ll pay the hospital bill and you don’t have to pay me” and so I spent the summer in a hospital far from my home struggling to survive. Yet even there I found that Eden followed me because this young resident is the reason I can walk, use both of my arms, and can face the world with a nearly scar free gaze.
Coming home meant discovering anew the wonders of life in Eden. I did discover I had limitations, but I also learned I had friends, furry and feathered ones. My best buddies became the animals on the farm. The ducks would follow me all over the place, the dog would let no one come close to me, and the chickens would sit in my lap and make clucking noises. The kittens would romp in front of me and entertain me with their antics as they chased butterflies and Katydids. I was never bored or without someone to cuddle.
Summers become fall and fall turns to winter and snow creates its own
wonders. When I was little all snow falls were huge and sled rides were a wonder to behold. But most of all was the smell of entering a warm barn. Even today the smell of hay, grain, cattle, goats, horses, and pigeons flood my memory of winter. I loved curling up in the horses manger and listen to their munching of the hay and smelling their breath as they snorted at me. I also loved the way the horses would push small pieces of grain to the edge of their food boxes so the meadow mice might come and feast. Yes the mice came in during the winter and called our barn home. In spring they disappeared as they found better places in the fields but in the winter they scampered everywhere and climbed high to escape the cats, although the Barn Owls were always a problem for them. I watched as one of my favorite chickens, Myrtle, would fly up to the back of an old roan mare where she always spent the night. And I listened every morning as my father swore at the goats who always escaped their pen just to climb onto the car roof to irritate him.
I guess my favorite barn yard companion was a bull named George. This was the sweetest, most loveable and biggest baby you would ever meet. He weighed in at around 1000 pounds and stood a good 6 feet at the shoulder. I on the other hand we was about 4 foot tall and weighed about 70 pounds and this bull would follow me like a lost puppy just so I could pick black berries for him at the far end of the pasture all because he didn’t like the thorns. I remember when there was a prison break at the prison farm 20 miles from our home and one of the escapees took refuge in the barn. Like an idiot he decided to hide in Georges stall who promptly pinned him to the wall and would not let the police in to get him. George wasn’t hurting him, he was actually licking him rather sloppily but the police weren’t taking chances. To add injury to everyone’s pride dad asked me a 10 year old, who as I said didn’t weigh much more than 70 pounds, to lead George out to the pasture. Out comes George snuffling my pockets for carrots and while we went into the pasture the police took into custody a very wet and scared prisoner. That is one night I will never forget!
George is long gone now, just as all the rest of my childhood companions. But
in those years of animals, warm sunshine, soft rain, magical thunder storms, and snow covered orchards I learned that God is in the world in a way that all we have to do is open our eyes to see. My parents did not protect me from the life and death of living. Friends died, animal and human, but life sprang forth in equal time. Eden and the Kingdom of God, doesn’t mean there is no pain to experience, but all of the pain only makes the joy of life more beautiful. People ask why bad things happen to good people, and I want to tell them the low points in life lead us to high mountains where God speaks in thunder and whispers. But we can’t live on the top of mountains! There is a reason that
our lives are lived in the valleys, which is where the rain is held in soil warmed by the sun; and where drought brings hard times to challenge us into new growth.
Today I live on the side of the mountain, and I am blessed to say that I still travel to the valleys of life that challenge me into seeing God in new ways. I am also blessed in knowing that I visit the mountain tops where my strength is renewed by the whispers and the thunder of Gods voice telling me to have courage as I re-enter the valley.
May each of you find the courage to traverse the valley, make it to the
mountain top and hear the voice of God, and, may each of you find your own Eden where God holds you in her loving arms.
Peace and blessings to all.
Ruth Jewell, ©July 17, 2011