Monday, October 09, 2006

A Little Bit of Green

Nearly twenty years ago, I was very far away from home in a large city on a trip. I was feeling particularly lonely that dark night, and stepped out of my hotel room to wander through the streets in the last hour before midnight. Everywhere I looked, there was concrete and asphalt--streets, sidewalks, alleys, parking places. There were buildings everywhere, tall and appearing almost to lean in over me to cut off the view of the sky. I felt almost compressed, somehow, and it seemed as if my lungs had to work a little to bring in enough air.

All at once, as I strolled down a narrow alleyway, I saw a teeny garden outside the back door of some shop. It was about a foot and a half by four feet. There were only a few plants in it. The tired, perhaps even hunted, look left my face as I smiled widely, and I stared at the plot for several minutes with joy. I felt a kinship with the shopkeeper or whoever had scraped together a little bit of green out of the concrete desert that surrounded me for many miles in every direction.

I have thought about the teeny garden a number of times over the years. It is a fitting symbol of my understanding of these times we live in, and of my place in the world and the Church. It was one real reminder that, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overpower it."

The first Rector of Blessed Sacrament, Father Tony Rasch, and I had a private conversation just before he drove away on the Saturday he had come for the celebration of our parish's fiftieth anniversary. In the 1970s Father Rasch and I, with many others, had been friends and part of a phalanx of priests who thoroughly enjoyed each other's company, support, and humor as we preached, taught, and lived the Catholic faith within Anglicanism and the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Tony was among the first to leave the Episcopal Church in 1978 when its departures from orthodoxy were only beginning to become apparent. Since that time nearly three decades ago, the Episcopal Church has departed incredibly much farther "from its first love" than it had when Father Rasch left, and many, many others of my friends have left too. Toward the end of our conversation, Father Rasch gazed into my eyes with an earnest and searching expression, and asked, "Do you see yourself as one of the last of a dying breed?"

"No," I answered firmly and confidently. "I may be almost alone now in our diocese, and there is no one left with whom I have the same kind of camaraderie we had decades ago, but the youngest generation of believers is here, and they are orthodox. We will win."

It is an act of faith, and I maintain it without any doubt, even in a time of vanished support and little apparent reason for encouragement. I didn't even realize how burdened I am until a couple of months ago, because I had been trying for so long to uphold others that I had not been looking at myself. (That might sound selfless but it is NOT automatically a good or right thing.) Now it surprises me that I have endured as long as I have, for the leaden weight of being solitary and beleaguered pulls downward heavily.

But I remember that Gandalf was paradoxically exultant with joy as he waited in Gondor for the forces of Mordor to surround the city. I recall how Don Camillo was frantic with anxiety for the welfare of the Church and its Faith as the culture around it turned into its enemy, and Jesus said to him, "when you cannot reap a harvest, you must hold onto the seeds. The time to sow will come again, and then the sowing will bear so rich a harvest that you cannot imagine it now." So I choose the defiant joy of Gandalf rather than the soul-destroying despair of Denethor. God can use six square feet of garden embraced inside several hundred square miles of cement to prove that "the earth is the Lord's and everything in it."

Thinking of that little bit of green has reminded me that the concrete and asphalt were all laid over rich soil, an entire planetful of fertile earth. The pathetic little garden in a midnight alleyway was proof that all the square miles of barrenness around me could only exist at all because of the earth beneath it, and even a little effort from a shopkeeper I would never meet could penetrate the hardness and reveal that which gives life.


Daniel said...

Thanks for the excellent post, and for starting a blog! I've already bookmarked it. And I'm praying for extra peace and encouragement right now.

Jay Duffield said...

This is a great start to what I know will be another fruitful way for you to get your message out to a wider audience.

Mrs. Speckperson said...

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
Thank you for starting a blog.

Daniel Peckham said...

i love the image of your tired face abandoning all of its weariness in the brightness of a spot of green in a city. it's almost as good as the (actual) image in my mind from last Sunday when Stephanie nudged me and we saw you squatting on all 4's in front of Lucy M's baby carrier, both of you grinning madly at each other. The glow carried over. I'm thankful for your faithfulness in such a long and deep darkness. You're such an important and dear part of my life. Love, Katie P

Jon Cooper said...

What an encouraging blog! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, David - they are so uplifting, like points of light in a sea of darkness. I'm looking forward to a long run. Thank you.