Until the chiggers hatched and the monsoon arrived, I picked blackberries everyday. Big juicy, organic blackberries available for the taking. I did not plant them; I did not tend them. I just reaped the bounty of the land and wondered - what Goodness conceived of the blackberry? So sweet, so satisfying, so healthy. And what amazing generosity! On one twenty foot span of fence there are more blackberries than I can pick - enough for family, enough for friends, enough for the birds of the air. Surely this earth is fertile and good.
But there is a price to pay. Blackberry bushes have thorns; and despite all precautions, I inevitably return from my forays to the brambles with scratches and bites. The chiggers are just too much. Now gallons of delicious berries hang rotting on the vine.
The longer I live, the more I believe in the Genesis account of creation. To me it doesn't matter to me how literally one interprets the days of God's work - the great truth remains that creation is very good, and it is fallen. The earth bears thorns. Childbirth hurts. Men and women long for one another, though they tempt, accuse, blame and dominate. Brothers kill brothers. And still we love this planet - a miraculous island of life in the great emptiness of space.
Recently I read a book by G.K. Chesterton in which he asserts that all material things are inherently good because they are created by God. In his theology only intentions can be evil. God alone has the power to create matter. The enemy's influence is purely spiritual, belonging to the realm of thoughts, intentions, perversion.
As much as I want to believe this, I wonder if it is entirely true. I mean - is there really anything good about chiggers? Will there be mosquitoes in paradise? Or is there something about sin which has worked its way into the very fabric of things?
The prophet Isaiah writes of the reign of Messiah,
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
How I hope this passage is literal! How I hope that the knowledge of God will eliminate all violence from the world without eliminating its marvelously diverse creatures.
Is there a lion in the heart of God that doesn't hunt? In this world it is impossible. The lion must eat meat - it cannot do otherwise. But like a child, I can imagine a different order. No, it is more than imagining. It is a strong hope that under the full reign of God there will be no need for teeth or stings or thorns. Because there will be no death, there will be no need for self-protection. Something about our very natures will change. How I hope that when I see God face to face, the sin written on my face - the shame, "the haughty eyebrow", the mocking smile - will be wiped away, that something about my deepest being will change without destroying what is essentially "me."
This summer Pope Francis will release an encyclical on the environment, and I hear rumor that climate change and the Christian's duty will be a significant theme for his visit to America. I look forward to reading this document, to praying and meditating on this theme. My thoughts are already turned this direction with the newness of life in the country.