Tag Archives: gardening

induced meandering

Image

It’s one of my favorite phrases, related to rainwater harvesting – induced meandering.

The premise is, whenever you can get rainwater runoff to slow down, to take a more circuitous route, to wind its way down a hill rather than rush full speed toward the gutter, storm drain, or gully below you increase the likelihood for ‘induced meandering’ – and the likelihood that this runoff will actually be a resource rather than a nuisance. 

If runoff can slow down it has the chance of sinking in as it makes its way down a slope. As it sinks in, it provides irrigation to the plants on its way. This not only waters those particular plants, but, over time and given enough precipitation, has the possibility to refill the aquifers in the ground below to contribute to the overall health of the larger ecosystem. 

Take, for example, the geraniums on the path in the image with this post. Granted, geraniums are fairly drought tolerant and hardy plants. That said, these geraniums never get watered, unless it is by the rain. Since we typically have a dry period between about April and November, that means that these geraniums last with basically no irrigation for about 7 months. That’s crazy, right? Well, yes – except for the fact that when it does rain, they are fed by the stream that flows, winds, meanders past them. This runoff from the road can be fairly strong at times. But as it encounters the path it is slowed down by both the organic matter and loose granite along the path.

At a certain point the stream encounters a sort of ‘speed bump’ and makes its way into the garden, continuing to wind its way past an avocado tree, a plum, on toward an almond and from that down to an apple. Typically this is as far as it gets, but were the rain and the flow to be slightly stronger it would continue on its way to the orange, down past the artichoke, and on toward the guava. 

The premise behind induced meandering is not just to slow the water down, to give it time to sink in, but also to ensure that, when possible, the rainwater never leaves but is all used, absorbed, and given the chance to sink in, rather than run off. 

So, how does one help to induce induced meandering? Easy. 

  • Observation – it is important to first watch how the water flows in a given area, or over your property. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Where does it run ‘fast’ and where does it slow down? Observe the path and pattern of the water. 
  • Action – once you have observed the patterns of the water it is time to experiment. How might the water be slowed in the fast areas? Typically this is done by either spreading it out, or by adding curves to its path. Perhaps it is a dirt road that gets rutted from the rain – add a rock or other ‘block’ near the top of the rut and water will spread out rather than make a deeper rut. Perhaps it is a downhill dirt path that, with each rain, gets cut deeper – add ‘speed bumps’ in the form of rocks or dirt to help slow the water down, to encourage it to spread out as it travels. 

Implemented thoughtfully, this induced meandering can provide irrigation to soil, plants and trees long after the rains have passed. The benefits are both immediate and long term. The more induced meandering, the more the overall health of the entire area, not just a particular plant or a particular tree. 

Induced meandering is not just limited to the garden, of course. 

Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the 40 days (cuaresma in Spanish) leading up to Easter. Lent is often thought about as a time to ‘give up’ something – chocolate or sugar or alcohol, candy or sweets. But Lent is not just about sacrificing for sacrifices’ sake. The emptying of Lent is to create space for that which is to come, namely Easter. Life. Resurrection. 

More than ‘giving up,’ Lent allows time for examination – reflection and preparation. 

Induced meandering, if you will. 

A time when we find ways to slow down, to meander rather than to rush, to allow that which is life to sink in a bit, to find ways to go deeper and not always stay on the surface. A time to observe, to pay attention, and then to act – and in so doing providing the space to move from ‘rush’ to ‘replenish.’ 

Advertisements

jabulani: pap and sheba

Are you around? I’ve made some traditional Zulu food and you’ve got to try it. 

It’s not exactly the kind of message you expect to get, living in Baja.

But with South African, Thai, and Spanish neighbors, in addition to the plentiful Mexicans and Americans, even in this small town it is not entirely out of the realm of the possible.

Turns out the ‘Zulu food’ is called Pap and Sheba. It’s ‘traditional’ food in South Africa–never something you’d go to a restaurant for, but something you’d eat at home, according to my host and impromptu cooking jefe, Ron.

He made it because his first foray into home gardening has gifted him with an abundance of tomatoes–tomatoes that were delicious in the sauce of the dish, called ‘Sheba.’

Pap, the ‘starch’ of the dish, is a corn meal substance, like a polenta, over which the Sheba–saucy with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices to taste–is poured.

It was delicious.

So delicious, in fact, that I had to go home and try to make it myself. That same night. After eating an entire bowl full.

I too, have been gifted with a garden full of tomatoes, many of which I’ve sun-dried on the dashboard of my car (that will have to be another post) but with the cooler temps that have come in, sautéing them seemed to be a good option.

Though my attempt was not nearly as tasty as the real deal (taught to Ron by a lovely African woman named Violet) it is good enough to keep the leftovers and marks my first entrance into adding a South African flair to the cooking repertoire.

jubulani! (which, I learned, is a zulu word for ‘rejoice’)

what we nurture*

I have another story for you from the garden…I know, maybe you are getting sick of stories from the garden? But, the thing is, two of my favorite story tellers also focus on stories from the garden, or about the land—those storytellers, are, of course, Jesus and Garrison Keillor.

This story is from a few years back. It, too, is one of the instrumental pieces in my becoming the ‘gardener’ that I am today. It was really the sort of ‘taking it to the next level’ of my gardening prowess.

It was summer. Maybe even July, which is, under normal circumstances, a bit too late to begin planting seeds. But these were not normal circumstances.

My good family friend, Jack, like a father to me, and what I had left after my own father had passed away three years before, was nearing the final stages of dying from cancer. He was still living a fairly ‘normal’ life, but it was clear that he would not be ‘winning’ this battle. It was, as you can imagine, a difficult time.

As it happened, two of his three grandchildren were away at camp. The third, Tommy, at 6 was too young, and had to stay home.

To be honest, I don’t really remember exactly how it played out, but, on a whim really, Tommy and I decided to plant a garden in his grandparents back yard. Or Tommy decided. Like I said, I’m not sure how it actually began. But I can tell you how it grew.

There was a lot of unused dirt, that had been laying fallow for years. I wasn’t entirely sure that it was capable of growing anything, truth be told. But we decided to take a chance, and to see.

So, Tommy and I made a trip to the nursery, and I told him to pick out whatever he wanted to plant. Let’s just say we left with quite a collection of seeds—pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, onions, carrots, Crenshaw melons and even morning glories, which we only later found out were poisonous, but which provided a beautiful canopy of color along one of the fences.

For the next few weeks Tommy and I cultivated sections of that fallow, untouched dirt and waited to see what would happen.

…..

Again Jesus began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’

…..

As we began to talk about Not Church for May, and the realization that it was falling on Mother’s Day, it was suggested that we take that and allow it to guide us toward a theme of ‘nurture.’

To be honest, I was less than thrilled. Nurture? I thought. It somehow struck me as a Hallmark excuse to sell cards—this sort of surface level celebration of all things motherly and sugary and sweet. But that is what the group had decided, and I wasn’t going to be the one to overrule it.

But as I thought about it, nurture seemed, to me, a bit sentimental, a bit ‘warm and fuzzy’ a bit ‘kum ba yah’ and group hug. It seemed, as I thought about it, to lack grounding, to lack roots. It was, perhaps, a beautiful flower, but one whose color faded quickly, almost like the seed in Jesus’ story, the seed that was dropped along the path and quickly plucked away by the birds, or that which fell amongst the rocks, sprang up quickly, and then was scorched by the sun.

…..

The sun was hot that summer, that summer that Tommy and I planted a garden in his grandparents’ backyard—no gloomy marine layer in that July.  Each afternoon, Tommy and his mom would come over to his grandparents’ house to water the ground, to water the seeds.

For my part, I was a bit nervous. I had never done such wide scale planting before. I had no idea if it would ‘work.’ I had no idea if we would actually be able to grow anything in that hardened, dried out and crusty dirt. Added to that, I had let a six year old do most of the work. Did we really know that the seeds had been planted at a quarter of an inch, or a half inch or…? Everyone seemed to look to me as the expert, since I was the one with the idea. But I was learning along with the process. Sure, I had been planting tomatoes for the previous three years, after the passing of my dad. And I had dabbled with zucchini—supposedly the easiest thing in the world to grow, but for which I seemed to lack the secret, getting one mediocre squash the entire season. All of my gardening had all been in pots in my moms small yard. Nothing of the scale or magnitude that Tommy and I were attempting.

…..

This past week, as I began working on a new section of my garden, adding the freshly composted soil that I’ve been allowing to decompose for the past six months, it occurred to me, and for those of you who are parents, you mothers in particular, this will likely not seem surprising—that nurture is hardly a ‘fluffy’ or ‘sentimental’ idea—it is hard work!

Preparing that soil had meant moving mounds of dirt, adding truckloads of dried manure, searching for enough dead leaves and other decomposing plants to mix in, and hauling them, in buckets and large garbage bags, down the road from where I had found them and into the garden. It meant pick axing the hardened ground to loosen it in preparation. Shoveling, moving it slowly, in buckets, from one part of the garden, into a pile, and then from that pile to the final destination. It was back breaking work, almost literally.

On top of all that, it meant carefully transplanting my tiny little tomato shoots, and the seedlings of something in the squash family that I can’t remember exactly what I planted, seedlings that I have worked hard to get to this point, and putting them into the newly prepared ground, hoping that they will be able to take root.

…..

What was taking root, that summer, was more than simply those seeds Tommy and I planted. What was taking root was, in a quite literal sense, life.

In the midst of a time where death seemed to hang in the air as something not quite present, but on the tip of your tongue, we were literally sowing life. Hope. The act of gardening, of planting seeds, is, by its very nature, an act of hope for the future. It is not an immediate process. It takes effort—it requires nurture. And it waits for growth, for new life.

Over the course of the next few months there were times when I had to be out of town, During those times I’d get a phone call, from Jack, Tommy’s grandfather, giving me a report on the garden. “Erin, you’re not going to believe it, but I think the morning glories are going to take over the block.” Or “Hi Erin, I just wanted to let you know that the tomatoes are taller than Tommy now.” Or “This pumpkin vine looks as though it is going to take over the entire back yard.”

It was amazing. Like nothing I had ever seen before, or anything I’ve seen since. That garden—that hardened, fallow ground—burst forth with abundant new life. It was, I believe, a gift of pure grace. It offered a respite from the death, and an experience of and participation in cultivating, nurturing, life.

It was like the seed, in Jesus’ story, that fell on the good soil—it came up, produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, a hundred times.

…..

There is a term I’ve been reminded of lately. Beloved community. It was a term used by a young woman—younger than me!—who is an artist and in the process of becoming a Presbyterian minister, and who seeks to foster such ‘beloved community’ in her life as an artist and as a minister.

It struck me that, like the word nurture, the word community can often be seen as something a bit, well, a bit sentimental and not necessarily very deep—can’t we all just get along, why don’t we pretend to be buddy buddy—a sense of glossing over the differences or the challenges and putting on a happy face. But community, like nurture, does not have to remain in the realm or at the level of a Hallmark card.

Which is why I like this phrase, beloved community. For me, it conveys a sense of something that may require pick-axing hardened ground, moving bucket loads of dirt, waiting months, or even years, as the elements are allowed to come together, to sink in, and to create a rich and fertile soil, a good soil, one that bears much fruit.

A beloved community is one which may take some work, some hard work, but which bears much fruit, which blossoms, and displays its colors in a beautiful canopy.

A beloved community is one that…offers hospitality to friends and strangers alike—and we all know that no one is allowed to remain a stranger long in this place!

A beloved community is one that comes together to celebrate weddings, to remember those who have passed on, to enjoy life over a shared meal or an evening cocktail, or that comes together in a space like this, to set our intention on that which binds us all together in our common journey…

A beloved community doesn’t pretend that it is perfect or without fault—we all, at times need help finding our way—but a beloved community is one in which we come alongside our neighbors, our friends, and even those with whom we might disagree on politics or religion.

A beloved community, it seems to me, does not live only for itself, but offers itself to the world, a taste of the richness and goodness of life lived in all its fullness.

That, is what we nurture.

*A sermon written for Not Church on Mother’s Day. Thanks to Doug Rye, for delivering the sermon on my behalf.

the ‘christmas spirit’ ~ on sheet-mulching and incarnation

I realized the other day–a realization that was a bit troubling, actually–that I don’t, this year, feel much in the ‘Christmas spirit.’

last year while in London in December I came upon this 'santa flash mob' in Trafalgar Square

Don’t get me wrong–I’m no ‘Ba Humbug.’ No, it’s not that. It’s just that, well, something has seemed to be missing for me this year. I didn’t even listen to my Christmas music until significantly after Thanksgiving–a patience that has not really ever been successful before.

As I continued to ponder this somewhat unique occurence in my life I began to realize something else–in my attempt to ‘dwell’ during advent (the season preceding Christmas in the Christian calendar) as a way of trying to create space for a bit of ‘being’ amidst what is typically a season of much ‘doing’, I had wound up doing something else as well.

Central Park, in snow. From my first winter on the east coast.

A bit of backstory: for most of the past decade, really, I have had a Christmas season tradition of being in a big city to enjoy the decorations and ambiance of the season. While I was in seminary that big city was New York, which is an incredible place to be for ‘experiencing the Christmas spirit’–from the ice skating rinks in Central Park and Rockefeller Center, with its tall tree and lower level Starbucks serving holiday eggnog lattes, to the wandering in front of store windows, or even a Christmas concert at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, to hear its choir, or a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockets. Even after seminary I continued to make the December pilgrimage.

Last year, rather than New York, I was able to be in London during December–another fantastic big city experience of the Christmas spirit.

But this December I have spent in the very small town of La Mision, Baja California, which wikipedia says has a population of 920. This has been by choice, as I mentioned. There are no ice skating rinks, though the temperature in my house (with no central heat) could probably sustain one. There are no decorated storefront windows, except for the ‘sponsor a winter outfit for an orphan’ tree in Maganas, a local taqueria. I did get a tree this year–it’s a meyer lemon, and I planted in the ground on the first Sunday of advent. One of my neighbors stealthily hung a beautiful Christmas wreath on my front door, but that’s the only decorative element in the house that gives a hint to the season. I did have an eggnog latte, back when I was in London in mid-November, and though there is a Starbucks 40 miles away in Ensenada I have not been there to see how ‘eggnog latte’ translates into Spanish.

So, it really isn’t surprising, considering the context, that it occured to me that I don’t feel all that much in the Christmas spirit this year.

Except for that it is.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I love enjoying the ‘festivity’ of the season, from lights to decorations to the smell of pine, and the colors of beautifully wrapped gifts. I think it is a fantastic way to enjoy life, family, and celebrate the season.

But, at the end of the day, if I were to try and communicate ‘what is the underlying meaning of Christmas’ or ‘what does Christmas really mean,’ though those things would be in the mix, they would be in a supporting role, not the lead. For me, as a Presbyterian minister (and an ordained evangelist, no less) and a person who is trying to live my life in the way of Jesus, shouldn’t there be some sort of ‘God stuff’ in the mix? It is, arguably, the biggest day of the year in the Christian calendar.

Because what I believe the underlying message of ‘the Christmas spirit’ is about is that, ultimately, God/Spirit/Divine/Source/Breath (they are all just our attempt to put words on something that is unnamable, aren’t they?) is not far off, out there, distant or remote, but rather right here, with us, in our midst, amongst us. The fancy theological word for this is incarnation, which, put simply means, ’embodied in the flesh, or a concrete or actual form of a concept.’

Back to my original pondering, about the Christmas spirit…

The thing is, this advent I haven’t just been sitting around contemplating and watching the clouds go by. And I also haven’t been boycotting the mall and it’s crazy search for that parking place, though I have to admit, it’s a bit of a relief.

yesterday's sunset, looking inland...

What I have been doing is quite a bit of work in the yard–sheet mulching two large areas to prepare the soil and keep out the weeds for what will become the site of spring planting. I’ve been baking bread and pasta and cooking soup. I’ve been spending time with my neighbors. I’ve been reading and learning. I’ve been trying to maintain a mindfulness of beauty by making photographs. I’ve been participating in activities that are trying to help others who are in need.

Incarnation, embodied in the flesh, the actual or concrete form of something.

Something like love? Cultivated in the garden, or expressed in a shared loaf of bread, over a meal, amongst neighbors, and extended to those in need…

Perhaps I’ve been in the Christmas spirit all along. Maybe, in my assumption that it should look a certain way, I just didn’t know how to recognize it.

maundy thursday (or, jesus and the gopher)

Tigger, with muddied nose and paws from attempted gopher excavation

I happened to be in Tijuana today so I decided it was time–time to head to Home Depot and take care of what has become an escalating gopher ‘situation’ in the yard–the same yard in which I’ve been planting tomatoes, blueberries, arugula, carrots and strawberries, among other things.

Well, to be entirely forthright, it was yesterday afternoon when I realized it was time. The gopher had poked its (actually rather cute) head out of one of the many holes and appeared to be looking around. Tigger (the dog), who had been waiting for this sighting, stood about a foot away, staring at said gopher. Her concentration was complete, but she did not make a lunge for the gopher. I’m guessing that since they live under ground gophers eyesight is not great, because it didn’t seem to notice a fairly large potential predator staring right at it.

I watched. And waited. Nothing. Tigger had been stalking it all afternoon, so I didn’t understand why she didn’t pounce. So, I took matters into my own hands, which happened to be holding a rake. With a really long handle. A handle that is sort of the same size as a gopher hole. I shoved the rake handle into the hole. At which point I realized that I had officially crossed some sort of line. A troubling one.

“Did I really just go after the gopher with the end of the rake?” I asked myself–though not out loud, as that would make me sound crazy.

Of course the gopher was much quicker than my rake wielding skills, so it really accomplished nothing. Except for to unmask the truth behind my so-called “belief in non-violence,” which is something that I would espouse as something I adhere to. Except, apparently, when it comes to gophers eating my vegetables. Which got me to thinking about non-violent resistance, and how there are real situations with real threats and folks choose a path that relinquishes fighting back.  Which then lead me to ponder liberation theology, which is often associated with the need, at some point, to fight back against an oppressor. Which lead me to many other thoughts that I won’t bore you with here.

Cut to today. I was in Tijuana, happened to be near Home Depot, and decided it was time to find a gopher solution. Which, apparently, at least in Mexico, is not found at Home Depot but at the ‘granero’ which is literally translated ‘barn’ but in actuality is a sort of feed supply store that also sells baby chicks, ducks, dogs, and, as I found out, gopher ‘solutions.’

One brief aside, for context. Today, Thursday, happens to be what is called on the Christian calendar, Maundy Thursday. Mandy Thursday (which I always thought growing up was Monday Thursday and didn’t really get) is the Thursday before Easter that Christians celebrate as the Passover meal which Jesus shared with his disciples.  It is frequently referred to as the “Last Supper” and is the subject of the famous painting of the same name.

So, when I walked into the granero and asked the woman if she had anything for gophers (I intentionally didn’t use the word ‘kill’ but stuck with ‘anything for gophers’ hoping that maybe I could find a way to avert traveling further down the path that the rake handle had begun) her response seemed rather fitting, in a troubling sort of way.

“Ah, la ultima cena para los topos,” she responded, which, translated loosely means “Ah, the last supper for the gophers.”

“Como hoy, con Jesus?” I responded (like today, with Jesus?). I assumed that her somewhat incomprehensible look back at me was that she simply didn’t know that today was Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating Jesus’ Last Supper.  In reflecting back on the situation, it occurs to me that perhaps she was not unaware, but somewhat troubled that I would compare poisoning gophers to Jesus.

There were a few more mentions of ‘ultima cena’ (which, each time, made me more and more uncomfortable with the merging of the terminology between gophers and Jesus) but she finally decided that, since I do have a dog, rather than the ‘ultima cena’ what I needed was gas pellets, which, unfortunately, she did not have. Somehow adding a gas pellet to the mix did not seem to make the conversation more palatable.

So I left. And went to another granero, which thankfully did not use the ‘ultima cena’ reference, and which did happen to have the gas pellets. After an extensive discussion regarding whether or not they could be used in a garden with a dog and with vegetables, and with a consult to a veterinarian (again, this seems like a troubling turn of events), it was determined that the gas pellets would work. The same gas pellets that, when I googled the name, made sure to warn that they are only to be used by trained and certified professionals. Where did I put that rake again…?

The thing is, I’ve been trying the ‘natural gopher deterrent’ route for some time now, with pretty much no success, as little gophy’s appearance yesterday can attest to.  Bill Murray’s got nothing on me, with google on my side. I’ve tried putting dog poop down the holes, using a hose, planting onions nearby, a stake that makes some sort of noise that is supposed to keep the gophers away, and even some other things that shall go unmentioned. Yesterday, after the rake incident, Jose suggested that one solution he had heard about was breaking wine bottles and putting them in the bottom of the hole where you are going to plant something. Which may or may not work, until the next season when you have to dig the soil again…

I spent the afternoon planting new seedlings–tomato, cucumber, kale, basil–which was, in a sense, procrastinating.

My mind was doing as much digging around as my hands.

…Why am I planting all of these if the gopher is just going to eat them?
…Are you really going to gas the gopher?
…Do you have any other solutions left? What about planting garlic?
…You talk about Jesus’ death on the cross as the ultimate act of non-violent resistance…and to commemorate it you are going to murder that poor, sweet, cuddly, furry little gopher? What kind of hypocrite are you?

Okay, so that last one might be a bit of a stretch…or is it? Is it ever okay to take life, intentionally, premeditated? Are vegetables sufficient rationale? I’m sorry PETA, but I don’t think twice before swatting a mosquito that is about to bite me. But somehow a gopher seems different–maybe it’s the cuddly nature. I didn’t really think twice when I encouraged Tigger to catch the mouse which had gotten in the house and was hiding under the kitchen sink. But that was a mouse…in the house.

This gopher was just out in the garden, being a gopher, minding its own gopher business when it happened upon a goldmine–carrots (which, being a root vegetable, are completely within gopher range). Who wouldn’t partake?

I realize there are some (who have probably stopped reading this by now, wondering what the drama is all about) who would not think twice about doing whatever it takes to rid the yard of gophers. One of the options that was presented at the granero was a rather large metal trap. “No gracias,” I promptly replied. There was no way I was going to dispose of a gopher corpse.

But the thing is, if I could get someone else to do it for me, I’d probably be right there with them. Which, I’m afraid, does not help my cause much. “I’m okay with killing as long as I don’t have to have blood on my hands” seems to be a fairly apropos sentiment reminiscent of Pontius Pilate. It was Pilate who (on what has now come to be called ‘Good Friday”) infamously ‘washed his hands’ of guilt/responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.

But that, conveniently, is a story for tomorrow.

first things

It’s amazing, it feels like summer lately even though the calendar tells us we are in mid-November, swiftly approaching the holidays, as many retail stores have been making all too clear with their displays of trees, lights, ornaments and tinsel. Soon, the Christian season of Advent will be upon us.

Advent, as you are probably aware, is a season of waiting, of anticipation, that spans the four Sundays before Christmas. Many people light advent candles and children often open advent calendars, both of which are ways that we mark our waiting. This Advent waiting reminds us both of the Hebrews who waited for the coming of the Messiah, but also serves to remind us that we still wait for that time when God will make all things new.

But if the stores can get such a long headstart on Christmas, why can’t we in the church as well? What if we get a head start on Jesus before we start singing about him being in a manger? What if we take a look, before we get swept up in the pageantry of the Christmas season, to pause and look more closely at the man that this nativity baby was to become? At Easter it is often common to remember and contemplate the final days of Jesus’ life and to commemorate the ‘last words of Jesus’ so why not, before the Christmas season, take a look at some of the ‘first words of Jesus.’

Of course, we do not mean the actual first words, mama or dada or the like, as we do not have a record of what those might have been for the baby Jesus as he grew up.

But what about the first words of Jesus as we have them recorded in the gospel accounts, his first public words and the context in which they were uttered? Before we get wrapped up in all of the commercial packaging of the celebration of his birth, the “Jesus is the reason for the season” what if we take a look at what Jesus said was the reason for, well, for Jesus?

So listen with me to the word of God, as we find these first public words of Jesus as told by the Gospel according to Mark in the first chapter, beginning with the first verse. Listen for the Word of God.

Mark 1:1-15

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

In the book of Mark we do not have a Christmas story, the traditional nativity scene of Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels and wise men.

If we were to make a nativity of the opening scene of the book of Mark we would likely have a river, a somewhat odd looking guy wearing fur and eating bugs, a lot of people (the text says that ‘everyone from Jerusalem and people from the whole Judean countryside went out to John at the Jordan). As the scene unfolds we begin to catch a glimpse of one guy, coming all the way from Nazareth, probably about 100 miles away, on foot. It must have taken him awhile to get there—an average walking pace is about 3 miles an hour, so that would potentially be a three day’s walk. Instead of baby Jesus in a manger, we’d have grown up Jesus with a lot of dust on his sandals.

The last time I was with all of you I was living in Orange County, and waiting to be ordained. Since then I have finally been ordained, as a ‘designated tentmaking evangelist’ and I have moved to live in a small community in Mexico. It is my grandmother’s house that I’ve moved into and it is surrounded by a yard which, before I started working in it, had been long neglected and overgrown. Over the past couple of years I’ve been slowly working my way through the overgrowth, trimming, digging up, and planting. It is common amongst my friends down there to realize that if they call me on the phone and I don’t answer, I am probably out working in the yard. One of my favorite things to do is to make a path for the rainwater, so that it creates almost a stream through the yard when it rains, and allows more of the water to soak into the ground. This not only keeps the rain runoff from getting too much and out of control, but it also helps to bathe the dry ground in fresh water.

A few weeks back, in October when we were having all that rain, I found myself outside digging around in the garden in the mud…in my pajamas. I had meant to just go outside to check on the water’s flow, but one thing lead to another and I wound up in the mud, digging, my pajamas getting wetter and wetter, and trying to keep them from getting muddier and muddier. I knew it was a bit odd, but I was occupied with my task. All of a sudden I heard a car pull up on the road outside. Sure enough, as I looked up at the car, I saw my  Doug, Kathy and Leslie–who had come for a visit. They took one look at me, soaking wet, muddy, and in my pjs, and burst out laughing.

…..

John the Baptist must have been quite a sight. Clothed in camel’s hair secured by a leather cord, and eating a rather interesting diet of bugs and honey. Why are we told all of this? We are not given wardrobe information for anyone else in our story, not Jesus, not the crowds, just John. If we stop to think, one wonders why the author of the book of Mark includes these details. Is it just to make him sound a bit weird? His strange appearance doesn’t seem to be off-putting though—the text tells us that all of Judea and Jerusalem were coming out to John at the Jordan. Maybe they were just going out to see a crackpot in the wilderness, outside the city? But they weren’t just going out to see John or to gawk at this strange sight; they were getting baptized by him.

Sometimes, when we read the Bible, we have become so accustomed to it that we don’t see what is actually in front of us. I am a photographer because I like to help people see that which they somehow overlook when not guided in the direction of a particular image. Mark is giving us a photograph of John, inviting us to pause and take a closer look at this unusual man. For those who knew their Hebrew Scriptures would know that John was not the first person to be described in this way.

Elijah, one of the Hebrew prophets, was described as “a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist” who lived out beyond the normal borders of society. Elijah, coincidentally, did not die, as it is told in the book of Second Kings, but was simply surrounded by a chariot of fire and taken into heaven. Where did this miraculous event happen? None other than the banks of the Jordan River. The same Jordan River where we now find John.

But so what? So what if there is this guy who seems to look like Elijah and happens to be found in the same place where Elijah had last been seen? What’s the big deal about that?

That is where the writer of Mark gives us another clue. “It is written in the prophets…I will send my messenger ahead of you, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make his paths straight.” There are actually two quotes here, one from Isaiah and one from Malachi. Both passages talk about the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one, the one who will turn the people back to God and make the world a place of peace, justice and harmony—the one who will make things right.

But Malachi goes further…”Lo I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes…” The reason Elijah matters is that it was believed by the Jews of the time that before the Messiah would come and usher in the day of the Lord, that time when all would be made right, that day for which the people of Israel had been waiting…before that day would come, first Elijah would return, a precursor, a messenger announcing the coming Messiah.

John even seems to echo this belief himself, proclaiming that “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me…I have washed you in water, but he will wash you in the very Spirit of God.”

…..

One of the results of this summer we seem to be having in November is that it has brought with it some beautiful sunsets. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to catch any of them, but from where I live in Mexico, they are hard to miss as they paint the sky with pinks and oranges and yellows. You can’t spend too much time watching sunsets in Mexico without someone bringing up ‘the green flash.’

The green flash is a phenomenon that occurs right as the last bit of sun has sunk below the horizon. If the view is clear and there are no clouds or smog to get in the way, the story goes that this flash of green can happen just as the sun disappears. It is a story that I’ve heard all of my life, and to be honest, I sort of thought it was the product of people having too many cocktails, rather than there being any sort of real occurrence. I assumed that the green flash would be just that, a flash of green lighting up the sky, impossible to ignore, obvious to all who were paying the least bit of attention, like a bolt of lightning casting a green hue across the horizon.

It turns out, the green flash is much more subtle than that. You’ve got to be watching for it. You’ve got to be paying attention. And even when you are, you might miss it. It’s less of a shout, more of a whisper. I always assumed that because I hadn’t seen what I expected it to be, that there was no green flash. It hadn’t occurred to me that perhaps I might be staring it in the face and not even see it right in front of me.

…..

And so onto the scene walked Jesus. Jesus who had traveled a few days journey to get to the Jordan where John was baptizing, immersing the whole of the region in water as a sign of repentance, of turning, of a fundamental shift. John had already warned them, this is only the beginning. What I’m doing, what you’re doing by coming out here to me, this is just the start, this is the first step. There will be another and that other will bathe you not just in water, but in the very Spirit of God. I’m doing this to prepare you for that.

And then, just like that, Jesus enters our nativity scene, getting baptized by John just like the rest. But when Jesus comes up out of the water something new happens. The text says ‘he saw the heavens opened’ but literally it means the heavens were ripped open, were torn or rent apart. And the spirit like a dove came down upon him saying, “you are my beloved in whom I delight.” And immediately the Spirit drove him further out into the wilderness, alone, tempted by the adversary.

If this were a movie I think we’d stop right here and say, what? After all that build up, all of that careful stage setting in showing that this John the Baptist was actually fulfilling the role of Elijah, who was the one to appear before the Messiah, the anointed of God, came upon the scene and made all things right, brought the world into justice, peace and harmony…

And everyone has come out to the wilderness to prepare, to make themselves ready for this big event that the Jewish people have been anticipating, toward which God has been guiding all of history…and then Jesus shows up and the heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends upon him.

And just when we are waiting for a green flash to proclaim itself across the entirety of the evening sky, it is much more subtle than that. Instead of stepping onto the stage and proclaiming, here I am, the one you’ve been waiting for, the chosen of God, the anointed one, the Messiah, the Spirit drives Jesus from that place out into the wilderness to wait for 40 days.

After that 40 days Jesus shows up back in Galilee, back where he started, and utters his first public words as recorded in the book of Mark: “Now is the time to turn around, for the reign of God is here, right now, so put your trust in the good thing that God is doing.”

It sounds a little bit like a passage you will likely be hearing in the coming weeks, a passage that comes from Luke’s gospel: “And the angel, the messenger, said, fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.”

Or, to put it as Mark does, “This is the beginning of the good tidings of Jesus the anointed Son of God…”

Did you catch that? When we first read the passage? The first line of the book of Mark isn’t a sentence at all—an English teacher would call it a fragment. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus the anointed.” Some might call it a title or a heading. The only problem is, if you keep reading the book of Mark, there are no more headings, other than this one.

If you spend much time with the Gospel of Mark you will see that it is not always neat and tidy, cut a dried. Often Mark leaves us hanging, without answers, without conclusions. In fact, what is referred to as the ‘shorter ending of the book of Mark’ ends with the women coming to the tomb after Jesus has risen, seeing an angel, and fleeing in fear. Even in our text this morning, we have suggestions more than assertions. The prophets have written about a messenger, an Elijah-like figure. And here we have John. John talks about preparing the way for someone greater. And then Jesus shows up. Mark gives us enough of the story to draw us in, to invite our participation, to cause us to wonder. But he doesn’t give answers. That he leaves up to us.

Jesus comes onto the scene and his first public words are, “Change, turn around, turn from the way you were going and toward something new, for there is good news, there are good tidings, the kingdom of God has come near, have confidence.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ…

Perhaps, the author of Mark is suggesting, I’m going to give you the beginning, but it’s up to you to keep the story going.

taste your food

'tomato' by erin dunigan

The first time I noticed it, it happened to be in the form of a tomato. It was fresh from the garden, homegrown, just off the vine and I was slicing it up to eat for dinner.

“This is so good!” I couldn’t help exclaiming as I took my first bite. It was, in no uncertain terms, delicious.

“Wow, what a difference it makes to eat your tomato fresh from the vine, vs. fresh from the produce aisle at the supermarket,” I thought to myself. Even the ‘vine ripened’ tomatoes in the market didn’t even come close to the flavor of the home grown version. So, for the past five years since, I’ve made sure each spring to plant tomatoes. “They should have a different name for the ones that they sell in the supermarket,” I remember thinking. Because the tasteless bland bit of mush is really nothing like the real thing. I seemed to be turning into something of a tomato snob. Not just a snob, but a real tomato evangelist as well. “Here, try one of these, you’ll love it,” I offered to friends and neighbors, when the plants’ yields were more than I could keep up with. “It is so much better than the store bought variety–try it!” I’d push. Not quite a megaphone and placards preaching impending doom on the street corner, but close.

This behavior continued over the past five years, fairly consistent. In the intervening time I read books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy and  Michael Polan’s In Defense of Food. I started paying attention to where my food came from–meaning, how far away (do I really need out of season berries from Argentina?) as well as how it was grown (do I really want to eat beef from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) with all of the potential for disease, not to mention the ecological ramifications such mass produced farming efforts leave in their wake.

But then one day a few weeks ago something else happened.

Spending more of my time in Baja California, I’ve been trying to get as much of what I need locally, rather than picking it up when I happen to be in the US. Amazingly, even though it is a small town, a new ‘produce market’ opened up locally, with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, most of them locally grown. On this particular day, along with my other items, I picked up a cucumber and a few carrots. That night as I was peeling the cucumber and slicing it to put in a salad, I sampled a bit.

“This has so much flavor!” I couldn’t help but exclaim. I was amazed. I didn’t realize that cucumbers could be so flavorful–so much that I could even smell the cucumber as I was slicing it.

That was when I realized–maybe the same thing that is true for the tomato, is true for the cucumber as well?! Is it possible that cucumbers, real ones, grown locally and picked when they are actually ripe and ready to be eaten, is it possible that they are actually much more flavorful than their store bought counterparts, just like tomatoes? It seemed so obvious, now that I saw it, but still somehow I was stunned.

The next day it happened again. I was hungry and wanted a snack. I spotted the carrot and decided I’d peel it and have a healthier snack than the chips and salsa I was eying. So, you guessed it. I peeled and sliced the carrot and as I bit into it, again was taken aback. “You mean carrots are flavorful too?!”

So, it made me wonder. How much else of what we have been accustomed to eating and drinking is actually a shadow of the real thing? And perhaps more importantly, why in the world have we allowed this to be so?