May 13, 2012

Rogation Sunday/Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

The Rev. Dr. Brent Was


            “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…”

Has anyone here heard of Utah Phillips?  I know that Nick sold him a pair of pants that he made.   He was a great folk singer and muckraker.  Some years ago he gave a talk to a young writers conference that was set to music by the indomitable Ani DiFranco.  What he said was this:

“You’re about to be told one more time that you’re America’s most valuable natural resource.  Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources? Have you seen them strip mine?  Have you seen a clear-cut in a forest?  Have you seen a polluted river?  Don’t ever let them call you a valuable natural resource!  They’re gonna strip mine your soul!  They’re gonna clear-cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit, unless you learn to resist, ‘cause the profit system follows the path of least resistance, and following the path of least resistance is what makes the river run crooked!  Hmph!”


            “Following the Path of Least resistance is what makes the river run crooked.” Interesting.  Sort of turns it on its head.  Why do rivers run crooked? Because they are supposed to. The river runs crooked because it is supposed to… Rivers follow the most expedient route, the path of least resistance.  Rivers do not flow in straight lines, they do not go up hill.  Of course, by expending enough energy we can make them go straight or up hill but they will not do that of their own volition, that is not the way of the world.  

            I started thinking about the path of least resistance when I was farming back in Massachusetts. There, farmland, if left to its own devices, would revert to a mixed pine/hardwood forest dominated by white pine, sugar maple and a variety of oaks with a spectacular copper beeches thrown in for color.  Leave the land alone for a year and woody shrubs start popping up.  Birch saplings then come in through the brambles with some spruce and early pines.  These are the pioneer species.  As these trees thicken the slow growing oaks and maples stretch out towards the heavens and the canopy closes, shading out the undergrowth and making habitat more suitable for deer, moose, wolves and bear.  It takes a couple of hundred years to be old growth, but that path takes no “effort” on the part of the forest community.  The land wants to be a forest.  It is the path of least resistance to get there.

            Around here, I am still learning, but it seems that most of the Willamette Valley wants to be oak savannah.  Fire kept the ground clear for herds of deer, elk and bison, and the myriad edible plants like the beautiful camas that surrounds Resurrection.  Mountain lions, bear and wolves liked it, too.  The land here, it would seem, wants to be an oak savannah.  The path of least resistance would take the land to where it needs to be.  

            What does this observation, what land would do if left to its own devices, what does it mean?  How does that matter?  Again, I defer to my intimate knowledge of 100 acres 50 miles north of Boston.  There, knowing that the land wants to be a forest, we tried to come to a compromise.  In the near horizon, returning to forest would not provide the calories we needed to survive, so we sought to mimic natural systems that approximated a forest ecosystem.  Compromise.  Forests never have bare ground, so we covered as much land as possible with living mulches of clovers, vetch and grasses.  Forests have animals in them, so we ran our chickens and turkeys over the land to eat the bugs and scratch their own manure into the soil.  We had plans to run mammals over the land, pigs with their rooting and sheep or goats as grazers.  The soil microbiology had evolved over 10,000 years to confect fertility from forest deutrius, so we used shredded leaves as mulch. We mostly grew what evolved in a climate such as ours, varieties that needed little green housing and not much in the way of plastic row covers or hoop houses to survive and could make it pretty well with our normal rains.  We farmed on the path of least resistance.

            When Paul writes, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God,” he is talking about the time when human beings realize that the perfect path, the way of Christ is right before us.  The whole of creation is waiting for us to find it and God wishes for us to be on the path of least resistance because with that consciousness we will be led onward as parts of this creation, not as consumers of it, rulers of it, even caretakers or it, we will simply be participants in it.  Parts of it.   Why did we break from the natural flow of things?  The whyis a matter of great debate, the fact that we did leave the path laid out for us is indisputable.

            God wants us to be the way we are supposed to be.  God wants us to do things the way they are supposed to be done.  This is a theology of go-with-the-flow, but not in a lazy or laissez faire kind of way, but in an organic way; an in-line with the true nature of things kind of way; a conforming to the moral curvature of the universe kind of way.  And how are we to discern the way things are supposed to be, or be done?  Well, we need to discern, we need a process.  And what are we to look for?  Simplicity is a good indicator.  Elegance is, too.  If one of the paths before you is marked by beauty or loveliness or if it isn’t too loud or dirty or if it has an especially good smell, that is a good indicator that God wants you on that path.  (Joel Salatin, the great farmer of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame always says that good farming doesn’t stink.)  Things tasting good together is another sign.  Basil grows well with tomatoes.  So does cilantro, and the strong smell of those herbs planted as companions to the tomatoes confuses some pests, reduces the risk to those plants.  The path requiring the least energy expenditure, the least frenetic effort, the least push up-hill; that might be the right choice.  The path that feels right, that feels in alignment with the wind, the tides, the river, the trees, the sun or rain, whatever natural conditions that define your home, these are all indicators, signs that you are on the path of least resistance.   

            God in Christ did not promise us a rose garden.  We ought not have expectations of a world of easy peace and tranquility, those things take enormous effort, and whether we seek peace and tranquility for the world or simply in our hearts, it takes effort.  What God in Christ does promise, though, is if we stop complicating our own lives and the lives of the rest of creation, if we stop all of that, all of the manipulating and engineering of nature, the altering of things that need not and ought not be messed with, if we tread more lightly in all things, it will be just that much easier to rest in the lap of creation, to find refuge in the ever-loving arms of God.  Rivers on their paths end up in the oceans.  For us, it is the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding, this is the final destination on our path of least resistance.  Let’s find it.  AMEN.