If, as Karl Barth said, God may speak through a blossoming shrub or a dead dog, I reckon God may be found at rock festivals. At least that is my hope every spring as the Chicago winter finally eases its grip and I begin planning rock music outings.
The bag I drag is solid as earth, clods I couldn’t shake off roots reeking of rocks and blackness, the kind of dirt they’ll use to bury us. As in Iraq, where the body count climbed so fast mortuaries posted Help Wanted beside the highway.
And let me mention my own complicity with darkness, buying a jade jacket sewn by a hungry child in Singapore. And the way I say darkness, a skin tone not my own. Even the calibrations of a poem, tricky, the justice of lines, evil wrestling with good in the miniature Madison Square Garden of a page.
As I weed, I listen to the sweet cacophony of neighbor kids on scooters, the argument of work, its ache in my arms.
When the lawn bag rips, dandelions tumble out, eager to spread their seed. You know how gullible evil is, sure of itself, always believing the worst. Are dandelions weeds or flowers? Maybe I’ll tear the bag, send seeds flying, encourage a suspicious universe to bloom.
It’d been a long winter, rags of snow hanging on; then, at the end of April, an icy nor’easter, powerful as a hurricane. But now I’ve landed on the coast of Maine, visiting a friend who lives two blocks from the ocean, and I can’t believe my luck, out this mild morning, race-walking along the strand. Every dog within fifty miles is off-leash, running for the sheer dopey joy of it. No one’s in the water, but walkers and shellers leave their tracks on the hardpack. The flat sand shines as if varnished in a painting. Underfoot, strewn, are broken bits and pieces, deep indigo mussels, whorls of whelk, chips of purple and white wampum, hinges of quahog, fragments of flat gray sand dollars. Nothing whole, everything broken, washed up here, stranded. Light pours down, a rinse of lemon on a cold plate of oysters. All of us, broken, some way or other. All of us dazzling in the brilliant slanting light.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).