Wednesday, January 01, 2003

We are in the middle of an unexpected bout of warm weather. Fifty degree temperatures followed by steady rains today have banished the last bit of December's ice and snow. Here on the farm, this is not an unmixed blessing. Temperatures heading towards single digits present their own challenges, but they have the advantage of giving you a firm surface to work on. If you have ever walked across a well-used barnyard in a thaw, you know what I mean. My sister-in-law gave me a new pair of tall, insulated rubber work boots for Christmas. This morning, trudging through the mud and manure Slurpee that until twenty four hours ago was a hard frozen surface, it dawns on me; I love those boots. It may seem petty, but getting through the morning chores with warm, dry feet can be a thing of wonder in and of itself. I have noticed over the years that having the right tool for the job makes all the difference. The proper size screwdriver, a sharpened set of blades for the sheep shears, a good pair of boots; all can be in their own way a foretaste of grace. What was difficult suddenly becomes possible, perhaps even easy. The right tool opens new possibilities for good work. Good work, that is, work done to sustain life, provide for yourself and your neighbor, and to heal the damage around you, is a chief part of our vocation as humans. The late Romanian theologian, Dumitru Staniloae, teaches us that malleability of nature to human action is part of the gift of God in Creation, and that men and women do not work out their salvation apart from their stewardship and transformation of nature. The second volume of his systematic theology, recently published in English, has a sustained meditation on this theme, which I would commend to the interested reader. All this rapidly gets above my head. Back in the barnyard, away from the heights of theology, I am content to find small traces of grace in a new pair of boots.
Bishop Seraphim in his wonderfully eclectic fashion, posts on Woodchucks, topology, and emblematic animals within, finishing with Adam's naming of the beasts. This last brought to mind a poem by John Bennett. I know his work only by a few selections published in the Anglican Theological Review in the 70's and by a small volume of verse based on themes from Moby Dick I ran across in a local library. I have mislaid the xerox copies I made of his poems, but still have this one, calligraphed for me by a friend back in 1976, a gift which I treasure still. I offer it by way of a New Year's greeting:

Old Adam, father, poet, priest, you stood
in human splendor once in Eden wood
and dreamed the holy names; your dreaming spoke
the beasts alive with that first poetry.

So now, Old Father, stranger to an age
when poems are thin knives or bitter smoke,
stand softly at the center of my skull
and chant your early metaphors of love
and set their joy against the bent world's rage.