June 29, 2014
Some time ago I purchased a book, Everything Belongs, written by Richard Rohr, an author who means for his readers both to read and think. Knowing that in advance, I approached the book prepared to work, and found that the contents did indeed require careful attention. When I finished reading Everything Belongs I shelved the book upstairs in my study. While not an ‘easy’ read, the book was a ‘keeper.’
Time passed, and other matters occupied my attention and energy. Then—actually, several years later—a study group that I attend chose Everything Belongs to discuss in our monthly meeting. I located my copy, and was re-reading it in anticipation of the group when—well, you will see. If you have believed that books are safe things to have around, my experience may give you second thoughts.
The dangerous moment occurred in the context of a rather demanding schedule. There were writing commitments that could not be postponed; client relationships that required an extra measure of energy and watchful attention; there were some unexpected needs in the lives of friends whose lives I share in community. And I needed to attend as well to Annie’s on-going care and the routine demands of a busy household, including my small “garden” (to dignify my collection of patio plantings by an important name).
I had come through what my grandfather called “a busy patch.” But a morning came when schedule permitted Annie and me to sit quietly on the front patio while the early dawn light grew into day. We listened to the birds waking up, watched the rising sun make diamonds of the dew on the flowers, marveled at their colors and breathed their scent. The community around us was still asleep. We sat in a Saturday space oddly empty of human sound as a symphony of moving color played overhead.
I was aware of a wordless sense of “belonging.” I knew that I, a small creature in a massive universe, was alive. I was alive in a world in which aliveness was the ocean in which I swam. And in this wordless knowing I sensed too that it was a good thing that I am here—I belong.
In some way, I suppose, it was an existential consciousness of context and connection. I knew myself to be myself and myself alive. And I knew, too that I was myself only, and—inevitable consequence—I was myself alone. But I knew as well (and paradoxically) that the aloneness I experienced is an aloneness that I share together with the alive world in which I experience life.
It was a moment in which I was at home in my own skin, and at peace in my place in the world.
But as the light strengthened, a ray of early sunlight reached over the roof and touched the plants in a pot at the edge of the walk.
Immediately, a small frisson of alarm troubled the peace of my gardener soul. Were those leaves that were drooping—drooping down in the cool morning air? This should not be.
Leaving Annie and my coffee, I seized my pruning shears and set off down the walk where I certainly found drooping leaves—an entire plant full—and something else.
Yes. Spider mites.
Already they had severely damaged the flowering salvia that stood with tall purple delight in the old gray pot.
I returned to the glider and shared the bad news with Annie.
“There are spider mites in the big pot!!” I told her.
Spider mites do not evoke anxiety in Annie’s world. She yawned, stretched, rearranged herself and resumed her morning nap.
I sat quietly, aware that my coffee was cooling, and aware, too, that something had subtly unsettled my shalom.
I waited, inwardly watchful.
Then with dangerous clarity, a chunk of truth wrapped in a question suddenly appeared in my mind.
You see what I mean about the unpredictable, tricky, dangerous nature of books. The liminal space in which I rested had been invaded by two things: spider mite reality and (thanks to that book) an unsettling question.
I knew that Rohr’s book was resting (with deceptive innocence) in a pile on my desk. But—too late. I had risked reading Everything Belongs and the thinking that came with it.
I had read it not just once, but read it a second time (in part because I owned it and it was readily available). And now, in consequence, my sensible, fierce displeasure with those death-dispensing spider mites was interrupted. My intent to annihilate them totally was suddenly placed in the context of an idea and a question.
Spider mites belong?
You may have guessed that I was not hospitable. I did not invite the spider mites to breakfast further in my garden.
However, I do not mean for those pesky spider mites to consume any more space or attention here.
Here I want to think with you about books and the life-altering choice open to us to read and to think about what we read.
Are you reading? What are you reading?
What books have you read recently that have, so to speak, raised unsettling questions about the spider mites in your garden?
And I want to remind you about a special book.
God’s story as it comes to us in Scripture is as concerned with raising unsettling questions as it is with providing trustworthy answers.
See you next week.