Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Contemplative Activity

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!”
Henry David Thoreau 1854 Life Without Principle

I have spent much time walking in the woods; it is there I feel most alive, and, closest to God. The smells, the colors, the sounds (and absence of certain sounds) captivate me. In the woods I can think, clearly. I think it's the trees. For me, the spiritual is more obvious in the woods, life makes sense there. Speaking of trees, yesterday I read this in the book of Judges-

"Once the trees went forth to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us!' But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my fatness with which God and men are honored, and go to wave over the trees?' Then the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come, reign over us!' But the fig tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to wave over the trees?' Then the trees said to the vine, 'You come, reign over us!' But the vine said to them, 'Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?' Finally the trees said to the thorns, 'You come, reign over us!' And the thorns said to the trees, 'If in truth you are anointing me as king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, may fire come from the thorns and consume the cedars of Lebanon.' " Judges 9:8-15 (sounds like a political parable to me)

When we lived in Tennessee my children and I would take occasional walks in the woods together. One day we discovered a clay deposit in the cliffs that overlooked the stream, white stoneware. We dug a few pounds and I took it to the wheel. It threw and fired beautifully. The best part- my children watched found material, in its raw natural form, transform into a functional object in our home. And, they were a part of the entire process. Most of us Americans are so far removed from the process we don't even know what the process is, or, that there is a process. If we need something we buy it. If it is cheaply made we buy it again. And again. What happened to a people who were makers of things? Saint Thomas taught that there were three vocations in this life: the active life, the contemplative life, and a mixture of the two. He taught that the third is superior to the first two. I like Thomas. He probably spent time in the woods.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Henry David Thoreau, Walden

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing, and imparting those things which God has blessed you to see.