Religion and Flowers

I'm not into isms and asms.
There isn't a Catholic moon and a Baptist sun.
I know the universal God is universal...
I feel the same God force that is the mother and father
of the pope is also the mother and
father of the loneliest wino on the planet.
- Dick Gregory, American entertainer


It's frozen solid and white as hell out there again today. Sun is blaring through the trees. Squirrels are running around on the branches, sending puffs of snow to the ground. It's insanely beautiful out; Winter has proven her point. Richard Rohr has said that everything you need to know about God is written in Creation itself, that nature is the first Bible and that Creation is the "primary statement about who God is." For me God isn't so much a who as a what, but I don't much care for getting hung up on grammar. All one has to do it look around outside on a day like today to understand that there's a hell of a lot more going on in and around our lives than we can possibly understand. Science can't give us all the answers, nor can all of the ancient stories, shared from mouth to ear and written down on parchment and bark and rocks. And our brains know a little, but only a little. A lot of what we are supposed to know is written in the heart, and the ways we respond to a day like today: with a kind of physical joy, with an awe, speaks to something larger and smarter and funnier than we could ever hope to be.

Last night I had a raucous phone conversation with one of my favorite people, Pastor Margaret, who presides over her flock at the Peru Church in southern Vermont, down near Bromley. PM, as she signs her correspondences, is what I think a pastor could and should be: human. She's one of the few women I know who uses swear words more than I, and she tells the truth. Her Sunday services are part stand-up comedy, part old-school revival, part musical. One never knows what to expect when one sits one's ass down in the Peru Church on a Sunday morning, and that's how it should be. Like life, a bewildering mix of joy and sorrow and singing and hand-holding and prayer, with a cup of coffee and a piece of lemon poppy seed cake thrown-in before one has to get back on the road. 

When I got off the phone Coco asked, "Who were you talking to that you were laughing so much?"
"Pastor Margaret," I answered.
"Oh, that makes sense," said the wee wise one. Even a ten-year-old understands the awesomeness of PM.

Margaret and I laughed our way through my questions about the ordination journey I'm about to embark upon. The ship is, indeed, leaving the port. My life is heading in the weirdest, most miraculous directions I could never, ever have imagined. 

I stumbled upon the story of the Rev. Samuel Porter Jones the other morning. He was a pretty famous revivalist who traveled around the country preaching to huge crowds in the late 1800s. Before that happened, though, he was a boozer, and a pretty hardcore one. He almost succeeded in drinking himself to death, when the death of his dad inspired him to turn his life around. He said some pretty funny and interesting things during his years as a preacher, like, "I always did despise theology and botany, but I do love religion and flowers."  "Me, too," I thought when I read that, "me too."

I do love religion and flowers, though I can't claim to understand why or even how they make me feel the way they do. 

Sam and I have something else in common. We were both, I think it's safe to say, at one point in our lives, the the loneliest wino on the planet. And the God force of the universe didn't abandon either of us during those crappy days. Quite the opposite -- I think it was in that darkness where God saw and sees the raw materials of humanity, ripe for spinning into something useful. 

Why religion? Why did Sam turn to religion after his awakening? Why am I traveling deeper into a church-y life today? Who knows? Who cares? It doesn't matter. For me it is the pulsing heart of the world, and now that I've lived it, I can't for a second imagine any other life. It's a mystery, dark and dreamy and deeply satisfying. 

"The whole work is inexplicable to him who confines himself only to the natural phenomenon and material things. But to him who has the wings of faith and soars into the supernatural, it is perfectly clear."

The Reverend Sam said that and if he were here today I would shake his hand and thank him for saying the very thing that is the truth.