Monday, February 20, 2017

In Response to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I saw God this weekend in decaying leaves beside Lake Wedowee. It was completely silent, as no one really wants to go to the lake in February. I brought Pilgrim outside and sat down on a wooden step outside our family's lake house and began to read. Dillard's prose was incredibly verbose, describing each small action and natural occurrence in minute, almost excruciating detail. Part of me enjoyed this, part of me hated it, but more than anything it made me want to sit down and do the same with what was around me. I closed the book, then my eyes, and just sat, listening to the rustling of dead leaves, the gentle breeze that persuaded a motherly "shh..." out of the trees, and the deafening silence that followed. Silence makes me uncomfortable; I don't like the thoughts that populate it.

I opened my eyes and, like Dillard, observed. Quiet waves invaded the cove, alternately presenting the dark water from the lake and the homogeneous gray of the overcast sky. Chipmunks and birds faded into their surroundings, but made themselves known through meek crunches and pops. Leaves in front of me wore winter's faded shades, turning the brilliant colors of fall into food for the worms and fungi that lie beneath. I would have given anything to be like those leaves. Not dead, but in quiet submission to the holy system. The leaves didn't have homework. The leaves didn't have to apply to college. They just lived and died and fed their ecosystem and were reincarnated as a part of a chipmunk or a tree, where the cycle began anew. I envied their certainty, their definitive purpose.

I am not a leaf, and that's how I saw God. Being a human who has to make decisions is tough. It means I can make the wrong choice, ruin my life, say the wrong thing in a conversation, or hurt someone else. I believe that God endowed humans with free will as a gift and as a responsibility. The choice to be a good person, to commit to agape and altruism, isn't part of the natural cycle. Darwinism rules the animal world, and very rarely does natural selection favor those who care for the most vulnerable of their species. And while I believe that there isn't much separating me from the leaves on the ground or the trees they fell from, I do know that they don't have to try to be moral leaves. To be moral is to deny many of our natural human tendencies, to rid systematically purge hate and apathy from our hearts and try to acknowledge the divinity within all people and all living things. It's hard, and a lot of times I'd much rather go lie outside in the yard and let the worms create a Pate-shaped flowerbed in my place. But that can wait until I die. Right now, I'm called to keep rolling the boulder up the mountain, even when it falls all the way back down. I'm called to put up a fight, and I can rest when I'm dead. Until then, I'll thank God for naps.