Contentment on a Fall Day

Saturday was leaf day at our house. It wasn’t really planned that way, although we did know that it was soon time to wrestle the trees’ labours to the curb, where the city will collect them in early November. We are fortunate in our neighbourhood to have this service, which occurs because we have an inordinate number of older trees that tower over our streets and homes. This time of year is so very gorgeous; as the leaves come down we find ourselves swimming in a sea of orange, and red, and yellow and a coral-like pink too.

My eldest and her boyfriend popped by Friday night, and in the morning Anelise exclaimed that she wanted to rake some leaves. I was quite glad for this intervention, and so the plan was that after brunch – we all had a handful of jobs to do – we would return to turn the yard from its fire-hued palette to green again. I went for a run, an especially lovely thing to do in autumn, and came back to find everyone hard at work. I gladly joined in, as we visited, and joked, and amassed the leaves at the curb, where they will be collected sometime in early November.

I do so much work that generates such little concrete results that I find a rich pleasure in things like raking leaves. A deep satisfaction attends my settling them curbside. I’m not sure if it is the rush of colour on the blue-black pavement, slick with rain from earlier in the day, or the return of the lawn to a contented fall green, but there is a kind of aesthetic pleasure in the process. Or perhaps it is the rhythm of moving a rake. I think at some deep level, it is because we were created to be moving and so many jobs these days are at desks, and the closest thing to activity that we manage is moving a mouse, or making our way to the coffee pot, and such.

Certainly, part of the attraction of this is the way it ritualizes our immersion in the cycles of the season. It seems many of us have lost our sense of identity with the earth. We live in a market driven world with an unrelenting concern with progress that drenches our days and drowns our souls. We are forever wondering about how our portfolios grow, how our careers advance, and how our communities compare with others. We feel like failure without progress. Nature doesn’t progress. It adapts. And deep down, I think, we know that we need to have this truth drench our very being, and bless us with contentment.

And so, we grinned today as we rallied our rakes in recollection of the cycle of life. Blood pushed around our body, and air cycled in and out of our lungs until we worked up an appetite for lunch. As we gathered around the board, and reminisced about this and that, it struck me that what goes around comes around: the “round” matters as much as most everything else.

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The Swell of Eternity

Imagine
rejoicing at
others’ joys, content
to let their delights and yours
be but waves, here
for a time until
finally all
slip into
sea.

 

Imagine competition for what it is:
a ruse, a prod – not from God – but a
house of
cards, a
sleight of
hand that
cannot stand
the swell of
eternity.

Manufactured Desire, Destructive Discontent

In one of my classes we have been reading Graham Ward’s “The Politics of Discipleship.” In the book he writes of manufactured desire.  He sets it in contrast to actual needs.  These latter are the stuff that daily occupies the so-called two-thirds world – that is to say, food, clothing, shelter, water, etc.  The former refer to “needs” created by clever capitalists etc.  Marx writes that after humans take care of real needs, they create needs to occupy themselves.  It seems that we are doing this in spades these days.

 

My students were intrigued by the idea that we are unwitting (although sometimes altogether too witting) slaves of desires that have been created for the benefit of shareholders who themselves have made obscene returns their very own desire.  Maybe “intrigued” isn’t quite the right word.  But hopefully you get what I mean.  A strange kind of feeling accompanies the realization that you have been putty in the hands of mad men, who are very happy to see us unhappy aside from the slick new (fill in the blank).  On the one hand, a kind of insane rage flashes in you, and on the other hand, a kind of perverse (to the market forces, anyways) pleasure  as the desire to usurp these manufactured desires arises and as the virtue of contentment contends against destructive discontent.  We discussed what it means to push beyond consumerism into citizenship as our primary way of engaging the world.  Of course, certain folk, politicians among them, rather prefer consumers over citizens; always happy to create a need that we can fill by buying the latest widget.

 

Ward also points out that, for those with more than they can keep in their gated fortresses, the market is only too happy to manufacture other kinds of needs: experiences that are generally exotic and thus both hard on the earth and vacuous in virtue: think of the littered trail up the mount called Everest for a moment.

 

We talked about what Christian discipleship means in a time and place such as ours.  We talked about how we are all implicated in the system (especially true for those of us with investments and hopes to retire some day), and we also discussed how insidious evil is.  And in our talking we discovered that talking is itself a cure:  in thinking these things through aloud we found a kind of solidarity that recognizes that small things matter.  Walking when possible, taking a coffee cup to displace another paper cup polluting Mother Earth, shutting off the computer, tablet and phone for a time.  These things were small, but they loomed large as we discussed them together ever mindful of that picture posed by that itinerant preacher of long ago: the Reign of God really is like a mustard seed.  Sometimes we need to start small because a crack is all that we have for planting.  Sometimes a crack is enough to remind us that enough is enough.

Enough

I have seen a poverty of poverty,
a wealth that is gangrenous,
stinking rich – revoltingly so – it sows
seeds of death and feeds us with a
hunger for what matters less.

I have also seen a plenitude in
simplicity,
a panoply of one,
a satisfaction in
contraction – ever aiming at slight:
a flicker not bright,
a whisper in the wind,
a shadow on the wall,
a slipping through the crowd,
a fleeting glimpse– yet enough:
a shade that fades into more.