Monday, April 26, 2010

Knapsack 5-6

Notes From My Knapsack 5-6-10

Jeff Gill


What Time It Is, All Nature Tells




Do you recall View-Master reels? Those 3-D picture discs you slid into a little fake binocular and pointed at a light source, and then pushed the lever on the side to watch the Everglades or Disneyland or astronauts go by in depth and dimension.


There was one of a set I no longer have (and I've got a bunch of them still) of a floral clock somewhere, with blossoms that opened in turn through the day, from dawn to dusk.


When my Scout troop was about to go visit Greenfield Village, I was kind of excited to learn that they had a floral clock at the entrance, but it was a letdown to find that theirs was just a mechanism for a large set of hands sweeping across flowers arranged as the numbers – it wasn't what I'd come to think of as a floral clock.


In truth, it's hard to have a clock garden that keeps good time on a daily basis, but you could have good luck with a calendar garden: by the month, anyhow.


We've had the crocuses and daffodils and hyacinth come, and now gone, about to be replaced by peonies and tulips aplenty in May, who will then take a back seat to day lilies and marigolds heading into Memorial Day and the turn to June.


Further up into the trees and shrubs, the forsythia are fading along with the flowering pear and cherry, magnolias came and went between the next to last snow and the last snow, but the redbud is lasting right through the spring to tie the earliest blossoms to the fullness now of dogwood. About the time those dogwood petals drop, further up in the canopy we'll see catalpa in full flower, followed by the very tip top skyward facing tulip poplar blooms, all orange and yellow with a hint of peach and pink.


Roses will get going seriously about the time greenhouse annuals take over the flower beds, throwing off this whole idea, but it's still true that nature has a clock all her own.


I was thinking even more about this as I read about our early settler families, and how special a treat was . . . bread made from wheat ground into flour. They considered the first loaves of their own grain milled into useable and storable form important, because it meant the first steps toward freedom from what was available.


We talk nostalgically and responsibly about the utility of eating what is in season and local, but in those pioneer records, it's clear that what this meant in practice, for them, was lots of bear meat most of the year, deer meat other times, and for variety, they made sandwiches. They were a slab of bear meat, put between two slabs of deer meat. I kid you not. No bread, remember?


When day lily buds were full, and squash blossoms flowered, you threw those in the frying pan and ate them 'til you were sick of them. Then you got sick of squash, until it was time to get sick of potatoes and onions. But there was always more bear meat.


In the modern produce department, time is frozen, sort of. This has costs and implications we need to think about, but we could start by remembering just how thankful we should be for sandwiches in May with good Ohio bacon, local farmstand tomatoes, and some California lettuce atop mayo from wherever they make it and pasteurize it.


Or you could wish for the natural days of a deer-bear-deer sandwich to get you through pushing a wooden plow across your acreage! No wonder they drank so much whiskey . . .


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about your favorite sandwich, in season or out, at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Faith Works 4-30

Faith Works 4-30-10

Jeff Gill


Be well, or at least get better




Going back to the subject of health and health care (and thanks for all the e-mails), this is a subject that is of great interest to people of faith.


Pretty much everyone who practices a religious tradition acknowledges that there is no spiritual practice that promises guaranteed cures all the time. The stereotype of the faith healer who claims that complete healing is possible as long as "you believe, completely" is just that, a stock figure used to mock and not a description of any actual consistent reality.


What is found across denominations and traditions is the belief that for a variety of reasons, healing can take place physically, as well as spiritually. Miracles do happen, say most believers, and we are invited to ask for them or seek them out, but the fact that they don't always show up is handled differently in various churches, while all concede that they might not.


Again, blaming the victim for their illness is so rare in actual practice (versus in fiction) as to hardly be worth discussing.


Still, there's always a church somewhere it seems with a family in the news, over withholding medical care from a child or refusing to wear glasses because "it would be a sign of a lack of faith in the possibility of divine healing."


That's disturbing, but it's also the case that there were doctors who recommended smoking before track meets "to improve your wind" back in the 1920s, and in the early 1980s not a few doctors told their patients to never eat eggs again if they could help it.


So we should ignore all doctors today? Nope, didn't think so.


I'm sure there's no end of things in medical care today that two hundred years from now will look, to them, then, the same way bleeding a patient in 1799 looks to us now: "hey, you crazy docs, you just killed George Washington!" Chemotherapy and radiation therapy come to mind, but they are the best we have in 2010. In 2210, they'll say "why didn't you give them the anti-cancer shot when they were babies?"


Meanwhile, we turn to our spiritual practices as both an indicator and an index of our physical health. If I've learned anything from my health challenges of the last few years, it's that the condition of my body impacts my ability to be spiritually present, whether in worship, in service, or just in my own meditation & prayer life. Likewise, my spiritual robustness helps me to keep on going even when the physical support is not there, or even pulling you back.


It's not either/or, it's both/and.


Which is why so many churches offer "parish nurse" programs (do an internet search for that phrase – they take many forms), along with congregations that even put together a community clinic as part of their community outreach. That's not an "extra," it's an essence.


Caring for the physical body is basic "temple maintenance" (cf. I Cor. 6:19), and it is hard, HARD to pray, with focus and consistency, when your body is tugging your attention back to the self and all its distractions. By the same token, when your spiritual life is a mess, or empty, you are that much faster to self-medicating, whether that's with food, alcohol, drugs, or just pure, unmitigated sloth.


Those are the kinds of unspiritual uncenteredness that lead to a body-temple with cracks in the facade and broken sidewalks outside, leaky roofs inside with stopgap buckets set all around, and crumbling plaster with erupting mold and mildew along the baseboards.


What would it look like for churches and temples and mosques to take health more seriously? How do we integrate our spiritual care with the medical resources that, quite frankly, do so much for us and add years and years to our lives? Can the building maintenance and the program services departments communicate?


Body and spirit are not in opposition: at least in traditional Christian teaching, the body is not a curse or a mistake, but a gift. It is how we experience the gift and blessing of creation, which is why resurrection is mind, body, & spirit, not just a floaty ghosty thing.


We need to start living that teaching in how we preach to and with and through our bodies, which is the essence of holistic health care.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he knows that his tuckpointing needs some work around the middle stories of the building. Tell him about your maintenance plans at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.