Thursday, February 10, 2011

Faith Works 2-12

Faith Works 2-12-11

Jeff Gill


We Live In a Haunted Landscape




We live in a haunted landscape, that much is certainly true.


Near where my family lives, I often hear the weeping of pioneer mother Lilly Jones, who will not live to see her three children, including a newborn, grow to adulthood as life fades from her body.


Just yards from where I work on weekdays, her second (of three) gravesites calls to my mind her four brothers and a cousin, standing not far from the rough-hewn square platted out for a courthouse in a county not yet formed.


And I feel the warmth of her smile quite regularly, as I pass her third and last burial location, gazing down on the passing cars near (where her father and mother are buried as well), marveling at the ease with which I slip into a grocery store filled with wonders from around the world.


It may just be me, but I can sense her presence.


There is that Courthouse Square, with watching faces of stone telling grimly serious jokes about our county's past, lips barely moving but the wit apparent to all who have ears to hear.


I can spot shadowy figures, known from old black and white photos, shading into the doorways of today with ethnic restaurants and modern businesses in full color, but their long dead hopes and dreams putting the chiaroscuro into the street scenes.


And yes, I've walked with others who marked a path from a century ago, a journey of terror and sorrow, and then got to gently trace the heartlines back to a birthplace, and a last resting place for one who died on a downtown Newark corner. Should his shade still be here, or there? He walked alongside of me in both places.


We live in a landscape haunted by names we know, and also by the works of a people whose name for themselves we cannot recover, whose individuality largely comes down over thousands of years to one object, found in the last century – today, the Wray figurine has a human face below the hood of bearskin which looks at me often, and whispers . . . something. He knows what the earthworks are for, and he's willing to tell.


I'm still trying to make it out, just what he's saying.


And of course there are steeples and buildings, churches still used for worship and some repurposed, in which pastors preached and deacons served and a living Word called across the ages. Some names we know – Father Lamy, Rev. McCarty, Dr. Fiers – many more we know not, but their imprint is far beyond cornerstones and congregational histories.


In the pews, faithful worshipers are hearing, in the words of the Christian New Testament, "a great cloud of witnesses," our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, for some of us spiritually only, but no less our ancestors. There are hymns that, wherever I hear them sung, whomever I'm worshiping with, I can hear my grandmother's high clear soprano singing out over the top of the melody.


No, really – I hear her, quite distinctly, gone these thirty years and more.


Then we come to the table, the altar, the Lord's Supper, the communion, the Eucharist. "This do in remembrance of me," said someone who died, and yet lives. We see him not, then suddenly, "in the breaking of the bread," he is visible, present, alive.


We live in a haunted landscape, absolutely.




I'll leave that subject to the marketing department. There's money to be made and thrills to be evoked on call, as scheduled, for individuals and tours by arrangement (bring your own equipment for recording or photography).


But that's not the kind of haunted I'm talking about, or the spirit that can truly bind a community together. There's a spirit of connection, of common purpose & history, of communication, that has nothing to do with digital temperature readouts or resistance meters -- but it's real and vital and necessary, and perhaps most importantly, it's the results that can be measured, not the experience itself.


It is, however, very real. Maybe even more real than . . . what we call reality.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your local ghost story (careful, he's a skeptic, but you wouldn't know it) at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Knapsack 2-10-11

Twelve Years Old in Granville -- Granville Sentinel 2-10-11

Jeff Gill

[This is eighth in a series of twelve stories based on historic fact,
or known small details, about life in this area from the point of
view of a twelve year old.]

Some 2000 Years Ago

She had watched as closely as she could, but it was still a puzzle.

Her mother had set up the loom under the tree where the well-worn
branch showed, in two polished patches of bark, that they were not
the first of their people to set up their weaving here.

They had spent the last few weeks with the fibers, dried after their
removal from the proper plants which were themselves pulled out of
the marshy ground. In large circles, sitting cross-legged on the
hard packed clay surrounding the fire hearths, they had hand rolled
the fibers of thistle and milkweed stems into longer cordage.

The smaller, younger girls had rolled pieces together between their
palms like a daub of riverbank clay turned into a worm, but now
compressing and straining until the tubes became strands – then they
passed those bits on to the older women, who with nary a smile would
roll them between their work hardened hands and along their thighs,
and in no time see those strands become strings.

When the strings were spun into long fiber (by some amazing work done
by women with longer fingernails, dangling spindle weights, and
skills the younger girls despaired of ever matching), it was then
passed around the circle to the beginning again, where the littlest
young women rolled it up onto clay cylinders until a fat ball of
cordage was the result.

Some of that cordage had been woven into a multi-strand rope that
made up the sides of the loom that now hung down from the tree
branch, and other stretches of it had been taken to the fire camp,
where larger pots sat ready with water and nut shells or berries. The
girls of her age had been sent down yesterday to the creekbed, where
they gathered up fist-sized rocks that were hard and dense, not the
stone which easily scraped down into sand, and those stones were now
in the big fire.

Older women with longer arms (and some of whom already had scorched
eyebrows) took pairs of green sticks with small forks on the end, and
lifted the rocks to where they could gently place them in the pots.
After a short time of cooking the dyes with the water, the rolls of
fiber would be placed into them, coming out sometimes with colors you
couldn't always predict. She had just learned yesterday that it was
bright yellow-green hickory nut coats that made the best black dye.

Now the challenge was to master the rhythm of the snake stick,
flashing it back and forth between the vertical strands, tapping down
with the lightning stick to firm up the horizontals from above.

Her mother was making a beautiful pattern, one that echoed the story
of their clan, colors contrasting and marching back and forth among
the more stolid background, like the tale of the people across the
face of the earth, like the weaving of the sun and moon across the
sky and through the year.

She was just working with a solid color, trying to make a sturdy
piece of rough cloth that could cover a baby (maybe even hers in a
few years, absurd though that might seem), or just a panel for a
shirt or pair of trousers.

It looked so easy as her mother worked, and she kept saying "It was
hard for me at first, dear" as she worked her weaving up from her lap
into the air above her head.

The weave was loose, and the ends of sections of fiber hung at odd
intervals, but slowly, row by row, the small loom filled out in the
shadow of the larger one. She would get better.

[There is little fiber found in the ground from the period of Native
American life in Ohio called "Hopewell," but from impressions left in
clay surfaces, and a precious few scraps preserved by contact with
copper, we know their weaving technology was quite skilled, to the
extent of making fine fabrics.]