All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

Suspenseful, but not impossible.

Wholeness was the plan, when God created the cosmos. Then, humans distanced themselves from their maker, the one with whom they had walked in the garden. Harmony between the man and the woman was broken, and they both lost connection with their true selves, which had been grounded in the Giver of Life.

C.S. Lewis imagines how an unfallen world might have looked, in his novel Perelandra, which I recently re-read. A scientist with a utopian vision comes from Earth to a strange planet — of course, we have plenty of this stuff to export! — to be the tempter of the Eve figure, the Green Lady. She struggles to maintain her natural and primal, essential oneness with her god, and the drama that ensues is full of suspense.

I suppose it is because of my non-fiction fallen-world perspective that I despaired of the Green Lady being able to withstand the arguments of the oily Weston, even while descriptions of the grace-full divine dance with humans lifted my hopes. I don’t think it’s in my power to say more about this book or the whole trilogy, and what I have just written probably makes little sense, but the story came to mind when I read the poem below. Because the Green Lady won’t remain firm unless the strength comes from knowing who she is.

In this in-between world, the time of waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom, we get moments and glimpses of unity and wholeness, an intuition of how it might feel to be in full communion with one’s own being and one’s Maker, and from there, with other people. But our parts are mostly disjointed and disconnected.

IMPOSSIBLE FRIENDSHIPS

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.
Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden
porcelain cups — and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.
A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.
Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).
The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.
Faces flashing by
in local trains—
the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.
And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.

-Adam Zagajewski

Father Alexander Schmemann writes about this in The Eucharist:

“… nowhere is the darkness of ignorance into which we were immersed with our fall from God more obvious than in man’s staggering ignorance of himself, and this in spite of the insatiable interest with which, having lost God, man studies himself and endeavors in his ‘sciences humaines’ to penetrate the mystery of man’s being. We live in an era of unrestrained narcissism, universal ‘turning into one’s self.’ But, as strange and even terrible as this may seem, the more elemental is this interest, the more obvious it is that it is nourished by some dark desire to dehumanize man.

“The thanksgiving offered by the Church [in the Eucharist] each time answers and destroys precisely this not only contemporary but age-old lie about the world and man. Each time it is a manifestation of man to himself, a manifestation of his essence, his place and calling in the light of the divine countenance, and therefore an act that renews and recreates man. In thanksgiving we recognize and confess above all the divine source and the divine calling of our life. The prayer of thanksgiving affirms that God brought us from nonexistence into being, which means that he created us as partakers of Being, i.e., not just something that comes from him, but something permeated by his presence, light, wisdom, [and] love….”

-Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist

The ethic is called forth.

On Hierarchy and the Reduction of Complexity in the World

“The world is, for all intents and purposes, infinitely complex. Even if there isn’t a truly infinite number of things, phenomena and facts, there is a sufficient infinity of combinations of things, categories of things, potential and real. This complexity has to be reduced to a level that is manageable at the level of moment-to-moment perception (we can only attend to one thing) and action (we can only undertake one action). That is accomplished through the cooperation and competition that is part of the general social hierarchy, which specifies through collectively-established value and through language itself what is to take priority and why.

“The hierarchy says: ‘Here’s what’s valued. Look at that (perceive that) and not something else. Pursue that (act toward those ends) and not something else.’ What the hierarchy truly specifies, therefore, is not the value of things, but the value of behaviors or perceptions that create, maintain or distribute valued things. That’s an ethic. The ethic called forth is a set of principles for acting in the world of value.”

-Jordan Peterson

Communing in the gardens.

Scaly Rustgills under my fig tree.

Late this morning the sun came out again, and shined on all the droplets of dew and fog. I had a date to keep in town, but I noticed through the window that the fountain was dripping instead of flowing, so I went out to put the hose in there for a few minutes. Of course I saw many glowing leaves and caught the scent of decay. How can decomposition smell so fresh, and how does the earth’s breathing wake up my whole body?

Lavender under a net.

I took a few pictures and then I was happy to be on my way, on to the community garden to meet my friend Bella where we have been together a few times before.  Strolling through other people’s gardens is thoroughly relaxing and nourishing; lots of interest and no responsibility. A garden comprised of dozens of gardens, each with its special personality, is even better.

Often we get to take home some treats, for immediate food or for seeds. Bella found ears of corn lying in the path, and she showed me where a few beans hung from a trellis, the seeds somehow still dry and clean inside the mildewed pods. How could I not bring a few home to try? The way those beans offered themselves suggested a small planting, which is not intimidating. And they are intriguing Mystery Beans to me as yet; does anyone here know what kind they are? Such a dreamy-creamy color…  (below).

After my first big greenhouse planting project last winter, and the way so many of my starts did not take off, or for various reasons never bore fruit in my own garden, I am ready this spring to try just a few things, a few seeds…. a more minimalist garden.

What if my pumpkins had been successful, and I’d ended up with half a dozen of those gorgeous French cucurbits such as I roasted yesterday? They would have been too heavy for me to lug around the neighborhood as gifts.

I picked a bagful of meaty, rainwashed collard leaves from Bella’s plot, and the sweetest parsley ever from the free-for-all borders. The calendulas I gave my friend last spring are still blooming there under the collard canopy, and looking wintery — the sun may be bright on days like today, but its rays are sharply slanted, and every image is darkened by shadows.

Another plot owner was there with his teenage daughter, whose name I didn’t learn, but I will call her Maria. They gave me cilantro from their bed, a generous bunch of it, which I’m sure was the most fragrant I’ve ever got a whiff of, just picked after being hydrated for weeks. Maria came to talk to me while I was bent over the parsley, and we chatted about cooking. She filled me in on the hearty ham-and-eggs meal she had helped to make for breakfast this Saturday morning, and agreed that cooking for only oneself the way I do would be difficult.

Her father José talked about how his children don’t like to come to the garden with him. Maria explained, “We never want to bother getting out of bed and going outside unless something is happening that day, if we are going somewhere or people are coming over….” She smiled when I said, “Oh, but things are happening here: the plants are busy growing!”

Today, of course, was unlike any other, and I felt the restfulness of January, and cautioned how it would not even be a good idea to pull weeds when the soil was so wet. Maria and her father seemed quite contented. She may have had the same unconscious rejuvenating response in her body and psyche that Bella and I were having, being in the open air surrounded by trees and grass, fava bean plants and every kind of brassica exhaling oxygen. And Maria did get to be with people.

After our new friends left, Bella and I wandered up and down the rows, admiring every leftover bit of life, such as two tiny bright red peppers clinging to dead stick stems. We examined a banana tree that appeared to have been stricken by frost, but we hoped not killed. And we sat at a picnic table listening to the tinkle of the wind chimes, as hummingbirds swooped back and forth over our heads. It was a simple gift of a day.