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Filtering by Tag: creation

Placemaking and the Garden

Tom Sturch

1 Sturch October mud maid The yard that envelops my dentist's building is a shade garden that can only be seen from his treatment rooms. Deep green foliage bobs and sun beams play as breezes tousle the leafy canopies. Dental chairs in each room face tall, broad windows that look out on the garden. Each view is peaceful and verdant though the remaining sensations are clinical: the reclined leather chair, the focused light, the antiseptic smell of the room.

This separation registers in me as a dissonance, a counter-intuitive gift, that we live in view of an Edenic garden and remember its fruit as we suffer our failing teeth. We have tasted what creation can be in our work, our relations and with God, and we desire it be that way forever. Once it was all joy and now we must count it so. Once we lived where heaven touched the earth and now we gather in worship. Once we ate from the King's garden and now we work for it. Once as near-gods we walked with God, now we lift our common longing in the cool of the day.

Moses considered all this in his words to the Israelite people. The great creation stories that came before held a low view of humanity, save for its royalty. He knew those stories and understood their power to influence a people. So when he told the story of Yahweh's creation, he began in an ordered garden and the animals that had been the inspiration for Egypt's gods were under the dominion of mankind. And more, the One God of the earth and stars would be present in creation and still far above it. It was a polemical declaration of independence from the many impetuous, hungry tyrant-gods they left. And it conveys to us that it was the place where humanity lived in creative harmony with the Creator and where the people that labored in the garden were free to feast in it.

We sense its reality somehow, and likewise, we feel despair with Adam and Eve as they must leave it. We may imagine those days begin as a fast where they spend endless hours in a shadeless plain dirtying their knees digging and planting. We may watch them as they lie prostrate before the fiery swords of the cherubim, mimic the blood sacrifice that covers them still and offer a captured fowl in meager penitence. There they may pine into the night for restored intimacy with their Maker. And when they can no longer endure the pain of hunger, they may eat the burnt bird and suffer again its reminder of their sin. This, day on day, as they wait for the seed of the earth to bear, is not foreign to us.

Moses' great story taps the origin of our own emptiness and desires. Yet, is it true? Was a man made of dust? Does a snake talk? Did Eden exist? What does its mythology do to its truth? Might these details build a wall around the garden that limits its access?

There is a way in which the question of its literal nature does not matter in that we easily find ourselves whether in the garden or outside its gates. This does no harm to its historicity which we cannot know. But, in this way it is more real and present to us than any capability of fact could imbue.

In another way its other-worldly impossibilities help us focus on what's important. Moses' world is our world and what's extraordinary is its ordinariness. We long. We desire. We go on. We hope. And he invites us to enter the garden as our own place of beginning, seed it with our own details and tend it as it flowers and fruits.

Lessons from a Lusty Toad

Joy and Matthew Steem


I haven’t always been partial to George Orwell. But, curmudgeonly, chauvinistic and often prone to hyperbole as his work can be, he has become somewhat of an earthy voice of exhortation for me. True, certain phrases and images like, “if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- forever”from 1984; or, the unjust and deeply troubling shipment of Boxer, the loyal and lovable workhorse, to the glue factory in Animal Farm; or, Gordon Comstock, the nonconformist protagonist from Keep the Aspidistra Flying, who is characterized by sentiments like, “this is the life we live nowadays! It’s not life, it’s stagnation, death-in-life…we’re all corpses. Just rotting upright ”are hardly uplifting. However, to limit our vision of Orwell to Room 101 or vague announcements of “oh, how very Orwellian”is to miss out on something really important.

Perhaps my appreciation for Orwell began sprouting its first buds when I encountered his essay entitled “Thoughts on the Common Toad.” In this short(ish) first-person narrative, he describes his profound pleasure at the discovery of spring’s first amber amphibian: the unassuming toad. He relishes in its voracious appetite and transformation from scrawny to strong and delights in its big chrysoberyl eyes. (I’m not sure I appreciate the comparison of a rather emaciated look being a “spiritual look”in his essay; and, I am certain G.K Chesterton would have most heartily and robustly disagreed with it. Nor do I enjoy his use of the term “sexiness”in reference to a mere rapacious libidinal impulse which characterizes the toad’s attempts at breeding anything and everything he comes in contact with. However, these are small detractors compared to the spiritually significant impact I find in this piece.)

Perhaps I liked that he decided to write on something as banal as the toad because, as he says,“[the toad] never had much of a boost from poets.”More likely though, it is because of his conscious decision —and I think it must often be conscious—to nurture a capacity for delight: “people, so the thought runs, ought to be discontented, and [people mistakenly believe] it is our job to multiply our wants and not simply to increase our enjoyment of the things we have already,” Orwell warns. He adds, “…if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves?”Sure, Orwell simply can’t resist the urge to politicize his enjoyment of spring’s miraculous treasures, framing his delight in terms of resistance to the hegemony which is, in his opinion, in perpetual league to stamp out nature-derived pleasure whenever possible. But his message isn’t just political.

His admonition to find beauty in the toad’s gargantuan golden-globe eyes ennobles everyday enchantment with the perceived commonplace. And if, as Wendell Berry believes, “the world was created and approved by love… [;] it subsists, coheres, and endures by love…[; and,] insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love”(The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays), I can’t help but think that as children of heaven, part of our privilege is to meaningfully and lovingly delight in the flourishing of a good creation, knowing full well nothing is ever merely commonplace.

Stories Within Stories | 6.1 author Max Harris

Brad Fruhauff

Onion6.1 author Max Harris offers a brief manifesto of sorts on writing stories as a Christian. Jesus puzzled his audiences with short stories. We call them parables. The disciples wanted to know their meaning. Sometimes Jesus explained; other times, he didn’t. Embedded in the gospels’ creative nonfiction, Jesus’s parables are stories within stories.

The Holy Spirit crafts gazillions of life stories, in which the characters come alive and insist on shaping their own destinies. Patiently, over a lifetime, the Spirit shapes weak material into something beautiful and true. Even the worst he never discards. A small tweaking of some detail or a sudden flash of light might yet breathe new life into flawed characters.

The Father loves each and every part of the creation. The Father eschews ironic distancing. Faith believes that God’s love is strong enough to forge a happy ending for the whole creation. But not yet.

I wonder what part my poor stories play in this long narrative.

Max Harris was born in England, received his PhD from the University of Virginia, and now lives in Wisconsin. He is the author of five nonfiction books, including Theater and Incarnation and Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools, and several short stories. Writing fiction allows him to make stuff up.