Sunday, August 23, 2015

Spirit, Flesh and A Goldfinch

In our backyard we have a large expanse of ground devoted to native plants. Right now, mid-August, the natives are at their absolute best with most species in full bloom. The garden is home to many creatures, bees, butterflies and birds. There was evidence of a rabbit's nest last year, and we saw a deer walking through early this spring. 

As I sit in my deck chair with my coffee of a morning, I am entertained by a great many goldfinches. The fledglings have fledged and now happy families of finches dance from one eight foot tall cup plant or goldenrod to another. Beautiful little things in the sunlight.

Flesh or spirit? I ask myself. 

As a believing Christian, I have juggled arguments about spirit and flesh over the years. We are flesh, we have "fleshy" needs, but we are spirit as well. We are exhorted to live in spirit and put away the flesh. Our lives, however, require that we meet the needs of flesh in providing for ourselves and our families, for keeping safe and for building communities. The goldfinch seems to have no trouble pursuing these ends and just see how he glorifies God!

Of course, these birds are earthly creatures, are flesh and blood and bone. They live for a while, eat, procreate, see to their business of food, shelter and safety, and then die. So...flesh. But as I consider them in their beauty and in their tireless work, they seem suddenly spirit to me. As creatures of God, there is a God-ness in them,  

When Nicodemus wonders how a person can be reborn in the spirit, Jesus declares that "Spirit is spirit and flesh is flesh." Helpful? Yes, actually, to me it is. It tells me that spirit and flesh are not a dichotomy, are not a choice. Flesh is a given, but spirit is a gift. We live in the flesh, but we can access spirit in any circumstance. 

In as simple an example as a meal, a risotto that I will make for our supper: there is rice, butter, scallions, peas, Parmesan cheese and salmon. All of these derive from the earth, from the same creation from which I have my being. All of these came to me through the agency of some other person(s), growers, fishermen, sellers. I am united to these people and these creatures, first as a creature of the one God, but more immediately in my act of preparing the meal and consuming it. How do I feel about this?

Am I thankful and respectful; do I savor each mouthful with pleasure? Or do I merely consume away? In other words, am I a lover or a user? Flesh uses, spirit loves. That is just my opinion, of course. 

When I look really hard, at the goldfinch and see its God-ness, when I know that God-ness is in everything I might ever see, certainly in every PERSON I might ever see, then I am "in the spirit".

What I must do now is weed out the times when I am merely using. I might use the road I drive on to get to church, but I'd better not be using the people I meet there. I might not love the bag I use to carry groceries home, but I'd better love the people I make meals for. Maybe not everything can be a goldfinch for me, but I know for sure that the more things that are that goldfinch, the happier and more spirit-filled I will be. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rot in Hell

For someone like me who doesn't believe in "hell" in the traditional sense, saying that someone should rot in hell has, perhaps, less force than if a Jonathan Edwards or a Dante Alighieri were to say it. Nevertheless, this is an expression I have used in the past --  of course, that was in the very distant past.

Although I have grown out of such expressions, "rot in hell" resonates for me in a special way. This is something I might have muttered when someone took my parking space, or my boyfriend. Perhaps a political rival or a goal scorer on an opposing team should rot in hell. Should Hitler or Pol Pot likewise rot in hell?

It's safe to wish this on someone when you know it won't happen. There is a satisfaction in stating strongly your disgust with a disgusting person, murderer of millions or stealer of parking spots. But it has always seemed either too great a wish or too mild. If Hitler or Stalin should rot in hell, is it fair to send Rosemary Henton (infamous boyfriend stealer) there with him?

Dante solved this matter poetically with his many levels of hell. The poor souls he met suffered according to their sins, and they most definitely did rot. 

And here because of the horrible excess
Of stench thrown upward from the unfathomable pit... canto XI

The poet thus describes the horrendous odors emanating from these condemned ones. Only his poetic resolve enabled him to descend further and further into worse and worse conditions.

Finally, however, we have someone who hits exactly the right note for rotting in hell - in our modern conception, not as Dante would have it. Walter Palmer, trophy hunter and killer of the famous Cecil the Lion can rot in hell. When I saw the sign someone had pasted up on his office door that read "Rot in Hell" in big black letters, I knew that finally this expression had found its true home. At last the trope fit the crime.

The outrage voiced against this person has gone well overboard; people love bandwagons and across the internet people vied with each other for the highest disdain, the most outrageous fury. But that first day, when the sign appeared on our local news, it was perfect.

What do I think Walter deserves? Forgiveness, obviously, as we all do, especially me who laughed out loud at that sign. What do I think will happen to Walter in the afterlife? I think he will rest in the arms of his creator finally. I think he will see whatever it is that makes him want to do what he does for what it is. I believe this is also my final realization.

God has all the time in the world for people like Walter and me to see ourselves and all of creation as God sees us. Even Rosemary will look back at tenth grade and shake her head in dismay. All the villains of history will do likewise. This is what I believe; this is the story that God is telling and enacting.

Meanwhile, Walter, Rosemary, know what you can do.  JK