Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Notes from my Knapsack 4-5-14

Notes from my Knapsack 4-5-14

Jeff Gill


Uneasy earth, hopeful soil




Heading back from the high school along New Burg Street after dark, as we so often do in these weeks of play practice pick-up, the Lad and I heard the spring peepers.


Down by Ebaugh Pond and the marshy woodlot across from the middle school, the sound gets ever more deafening as April unwinds. Clearly large numbers are behind the swelling chorus, even if their size is tiny. You can feel the multitudes in their song.


Striking to realize: they were, not long ago, frozen solid. Yep, these little fellas make it through a couple of winters after their tadpole phase. Eggs and spawning and hatching all going on great guns right now, but the adult population doesn't all die and they sure can't migrate. So these amphibious wonders just deal with it: their biochemistry is such that they can literally freeze solid, and come back for another vernal orchestration once winter releases its grip.


The water is everywhere now, the ice and snow having melted and the showers steady; flowers are coming, snowdrops and crocuses and spring beauties starting to appear, and the second wave is all green spears and shoots of vitality if you know where to look. More flowers, more color, more life.


Beneath the life is the not-quite-not-life of the soil. Below even the organic mulch-ness of the various soils we find in modern Licking County, so much of it a thin O-horizon left after logging, old school agriculture, or outright scraping off of top soils built up so painstakingly over the last few post-Ice Age millennia.


There are stretches of that native soil that Jesse Munson so memorably tasted the night before arriving in downtown Granville in 1805, and said "this is good land, it will grow much." And plenty that's been ruthlessly planed off to sterile clay-laden subsoil's, with the barest inch or two of top soil imported and spread after the work of construction and development is done.


Whatever is below the grasses or mosses or fallow pasturage where you walk, it is likely to squish beneath your feet. Unless you stick to pavement, or are on the sandstone ledges around Sugar Loaf park, there's little solidity to the solid ground. You need to watch your step, and take care of your footwear if you get out beyond where the sidewalk ends. Saturated soils are everywhere, and at least our glacially compacted and deposited slopes are not as unstable as those in parts of the West, where solid ground became a slippery wave of destruction, of death.


Here, our soils are ready to bring life again to the landscape. The trees are pulling hard through their fibers to draw moisture back up and to fire up the buds to unfurl into leaves, the sap is indeed running (has already run the best it will, sugar-wise), and every perennial, all the shrubs and bushes, is filling out if not showing green yet.


And as for yellow – the forsythia is playing coy with us this year. Forget the weather predictions, because this year the rule book (which the plants don't pay much attention to) is out the window, and the windows are all up so it's safe to throw them hard and far.


When will the yellow fringe rule the hedgerows and sidewalks? Are the daffodils and forsythia going to make their statement with the fervency we expect of them? Time will tell, but the time for last snows is past. The sky may threaten, but Winter, we are done with you. Begone.


Spring, welcome. Come sit a spell.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your signs of spring at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Faith Works 4-5-14

Faith Works 4-5-14

Jeff Gill


On going to church, part two



In Edgar Guest's essay "Why I go to church" of 1928, which I quoted extensively last Saturday, he also said "I go to church because I want my children to go to church. I want them to know something more of this life than business and sport. I know only one institution that will teach them that they are divine."


And he adds, as a parent himself, "The church will interfere with their pleasures at times, but their mother and I sometimes have to do that, and we hope that they will love us none the less because of it. The church will mystify and puzzle them now and then. But all things that are worthwhile demand something of us in sacrifice."


Children are often the reason people come to church who haven't for a long time, if ever. Kids ask questions that parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would like some help with in answering, and they tend to be questions of a sort – "where are babies before they are born? No, I know that, I mean before they're in their mother's tummy?" – that church is supposed to be ready to deal with.


Those are all reasonable and practical reasons to go to church, whether this Sunday, or these next two special Sundays as Christianity experiences Palm Sunday & Easter, with the week between being called "Holy Week" in many places. From one Sunday to the next are often special services, including Maundy Thursday & Good Friday.


I'll talk a bit more about those unique and non-Sunday services next Saturday, and I get to preach at Second Presbyterian on a Wednesday noon this week, Apr. 9 (another one of those special services that come with greater frequency this time of year, in this case a downtown Lenten series). But I want to wrap up this extended reflection on why I go to church with my main reason for returning week after week, whether it's my job to preach or not.


It's glory.


I go to church to experience glory.


Do I find it every week? Nope. "Glory" in worship and in life is like the distinction C.S. Lewis made between happiness and joy. The kind of "Joy" he was talking about was a sort of experience that you almost can't quite pursue, and definitely can't force, but you also know once you've been in the midst of such joy, it's enough until the next time. Happiness is something that's nice, and comes and goes and if you mostly feel that way, good for you. But joy, now . . .


And that's what I mean by glory. They may actually be two words for what can be the same thing, like lunch and dinner, or wife and friend. Glory is . . . well, when you suddenly realize "all shall be well," when you see a connection and then realize it points you to the connectedness of everything which is One, or when the harmony and tone of a resolving chord at the end of a song goes on just long enough to lift your heart, even as you know that note will end but your memory of it will endure.


Glory is the sweet spot of God and time and you, when the swing and the impact tell you with absolute certainty, long before the ball goes over the fence, that this hit is going yard.


And yes, when you are preaching or leading public prayer, it can be in that moment of wild exhilaration that comes just as you feel the skid start to slide you sideways, and then you just as smoothly even out and power right around the turn, in the groove.


But it can also be the glimpse of light through a ruby red chunk of stained glass that catches a mote of dust, which swirls and dances and reminds you that you are no more than that, and yet you are so much more than that, in the light of the One you come to worship.


Glory is not limited to the hour of worship. It may come outdoors on Tuesday, or at a meeting on Thursday, but it's through the regular practice of and participation in worship that I believe my heart is made ready to notice, and take in, those moments of glory that give my life meaning.


That's why I go, anyhow.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him why you go to church (or don't) at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.