Saturday, July 21, 2018

If I were texting my (adult) kids about organic wine

My adult children and I do group texting. Today, if I were to give them my news of the day, it might go like this. 

"SO I'm at a seminar and the nice man is talking about his organic winery and how they used to farm 75 acres with evil Monsanto pesticides and the vines all got crappy roots because pesticides wreck the soil and now they farm 35 acres with egg-laying wasps to kill the leaf-hoppers (bad insects -- and I'm thinking, how long does THAT take) and now the soil is all lush and they have sheep and cows to eat the grass, and poop for fertilizer. And I'm thinking ooohhh-kay, who collects all the bull shit (literally) and how long does THAT take. 

"And the winery now has gardens inside the rows of vines, taking up a lot of space that used to be for grapes but that now provides habitats for the good wasps that eat the bad insects. And I'm thinking, ooohh-kay, what if some of the bad insects still survive and cause a problem? And how are you staying in business when you have cut your productive land by more than half, plus use payroll to maintain the gardens? Plus they spray pulverized amethyst crystals on the vines every spring, because that's what the peasants of old used to do. It helps focus the light on the grape leaves and leads to desired nuances of flavor.    

"So I was going to ask what the hell BUT then somebody else asked 'oh don't you make Wine X, also?' And the nice man said Yes. 'And is that organic?' Um, no, but they hope soon it will be. 

"Ooooh-kay. So you have a Plan B winery that makes wine (and money) in the usual way, so you don't go bankrupt while you are slowing production to pre-modern levels, adding gardens and experimenting with cool, Pleistocene epoch-looking bull species and amethyst spray.

"THEN I get back to work and my co worker who has been in the business for decades asks about the seminar and then says, 'Oh, I wish I had gone! I know them. Such a nice family. They sold the winery for sixty million dollars a few years ago.' 

"And I'm like 'OOOHHHHH-KAY so this is how you afford your Marie Antoinette Hameau farm with the egg-laying wasps and the cows and the sheep and the gardens taking up space in the middle of the vineyards. I totally get it. And I'm really glad you totally don't control actual farming of food products, because if you were in charge we would all starve. You wouldn't, but we would. And it turns out old Strom Thurmond got the sulfites warning label attached to wine, as tit-for-tat because the crusading lefties got the death label attached to cigarettes! (He was a Senator from tobacco-land, North Carolina.) I say good for him." 

 And then I thought, all along at this seminar I had been gazing at a multimillionaire. In the flesh. I don't think I have ever really seen one. God bless him, may he and his family live and be happy for a thousand years. But let us be honest, too, I was in the presence of a multimillionaire, -- and a delightedly confident missionary priest. A totally untruthful one, but from his perspective, why not?

Earlier in the day the nice host on Relevant Radio played an old tape of (atheist) Penn Jillette talking about a fan who had given him a Bible, and of how he, Jillette, was touched and impressed by the man's sheer goodness, his exemplary concern for someone else's eternal welfare. He said believers, if they are serious, should do more of this. Even though their doing it means nothing because there is still no God.

Now the host of the show, the graceful and excellent Patrick Madrid, offered the old tape as something for all of us to think about. At first I was impressed, but as the day went on, I found myself less so. The main "pull quote" from it was Jillette complaining, 'How much hatred must you [the Christian] have for someone, to not tell them of eternal truth, of the fate of their souls, if you really believe what you say you do and you really believe the atheist is in danger?'

Mercy, you silly man, quite hateful yourself, I don't hate you. Not approaching the Penn Jillettes in daily life is not hate. It's still wrong, but it's weakness, not hate. It's our tacitly agreeing with the modern world's dictate that faith is personal and not something you bother other people with. And it is the fruit of a long faithful experience in history, that example counts more than anything.

But maybe we should send him Bibles. His fame now seems to be all about his dramatic weight loss; he tweets about not having consumed a single calorie in the last 81 hours. As for others, like the nice millionaire who believes in organic wine as Marie Antoinette believed in her lovely Hameau and admits equally as little of its absurdity, I said he was essentially a missionary priest. Did I walk up to him afterward and counter-offer a Bible, or a little fake-leatherbound copy of Day by Day with Augustine? I did not. I did ask about the insect population at the winery, and about whether he uses the "natural" copper spray called the Bordeaux mixture, which is pre-modern, non-synthetic, non-evil Monsanto, and toxic to everything. "That's illegal," he answered. I wish I were faster on my feet.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Are you just visiting or are you a regular adorer?

Heaven knows what calls a person to the Adoration chapel at a parish. For the last year I have gotten into the slight habit of going there at around noon or one in the afternoon, on my day off. It is just then that a little window of time seems to open, between morning chores and afternoon errands. I stop in for Adoration, for perhaps fifteen minutes. Sometimes I almost spend the full hour, if I take down a book from the shelves, and get lost in that. You can read St. Therese of Lisieux marveling at the "poor savages" who don't know Christ -- and people think her sugary? You can read St. Thomas Aquinas on how fast the angels move (instantly, from one end of the universe to the other at the speed of thought). Some books sneak their way into the chapel, as it were,without an imprimatur. You will find collections of "saints' lives" which include Gandhi or Martin Luther King. It only means somebody was cleaning out Aunt June's condo and tossed into the donation box any and all of her old vaguely religious-lefty books.

My dear atheist daughter, who doesn't know I go to Adoration but who is aware of what the blessed Sacrament is, opens wide her scientific eyes and says, "it's a cracker. You're kneeling to a cracker." Mind you, she is also the one who is moving into her new apartment at medical school, on the very feast day of the saint I more or less joshingly chose for her a year ago, when I first (not at all joshingly but somewhat abashedly) returned to church after decades away. And after a full fourteen years -- like Jacob laboring for Rachel -- in the middle of those decades, among lovely people in a Reform Jewish temple. As I sum up to anyone who cares to listen about that spiritual adventure, the Jewish cycle and the sighed gentle hopes came to seem not enough. The sighed, gentle prayers, "It would be more than we could bear, except that our little day finds its permanence in Your eternity," came to seem not nearly good enough. I want immortality. I want not to ignore the most important person who has ever lived or ever could live. I want moral heft -- life begins at conception -- and I want the intellectual and the artistic treasury of the Middle Ages alone, to say nothing of all the other ages.

So you see sometimes I feel called to go to Adoration. Having also learned to my puzzlement that "ninety percent of prayer should be listening," not talking, I sometimes try to "listen." To a cracker? No. Heaven knows I talk enough, so I try to at least stop doing that, stop with the Lord, please do x routine. My friend already knew about listening, just on his own. He goes to meet Jesus at a beauty spot, overlooking the ocean in Mexico. He describes what happens. "I got something to say to You, You got something to say to me." I was staggered at his real religious awareness. 

I listen. It is quiet and dim in the chapel, and one woman left while I was there and another woman arrived. I'm looking at the plants and vases of flowers, wondering who takes care of them and who decides when one or two of them get too bedraggled to stay. Then I remind myself that I should be listening, and so I say: the blessed Sacrament is, dear atheist daughter, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ; it is the same body the Apostles saw on earth two thousand years ago, miraculously really present here thanks to his very words at the Last Supper. Imagine being in the Upper Room. Could there have been a servant who helped lay the table and then went away? Could there have been a minute when a servant, outside the great event about to unfold, put down a bowl and Jesus walked in and they were alone -- and then the men followed in, and it began?  But about the plants, does someone take them home and nurse them back to health? I could do that. I tried offering a huge houseplant to someone who seems to be in charge of many things up to and including the Art and Environment Committee, but I got no response. Still I'm "listening," or trying to, deliberately refraining from mentally reminding God what I would like him to do. Lord, do we have to have so many lay ministers of communion? Must they wear shorts and t-shirts? And please look after ... and so on, x and x and x.

Lord, really. I'm listening. What on earth are you going to say to me, that isn't just going to sound like me talking in my head? "Go work in a soup kitchen"? Go be like Dorothy Day, everybody's favorite safe, flaming liberal Catholic "saint," who pompously (and probably shrewdly) rejected the idea that she might one day be one, not because she was a political self promoter and swooner over the best leftist violence* but because -- she fretted -- sainthood would distance her too much from the cowardly worshiper? I am not making either up.

"...the point of Dorothy Day's repudiation of the label 'saint' when people applied it to her, [was] that she would not be dismissed so lightly. It meant that others, less generous and self-giving, were letting themselves off the hook -- the call to sanctity -- by placing her on a convenient pedestal; by inferring that saints are different in kind from us, rather than simply in degree."**
The next minute, the woman who had come in to Adoration after me leaned over and whispered, "Are you just visiting or are you a regular adorer? -- for noon to one?"

I was startled because no one has ever breathed a word in here for the year that I have had experience of it. People shuttle in to water the plants, or they snore, or they rattle the ice in their huge plastic cups of water or latte or whatever they bring in, and then they burp, or they recite prayers in the tiniest, the most sotto of voces. Never speech.

I whispered back, "Oh no, I'm visiting." I had the presence of mind not to say "just" visiting, because that word just, in that usage, so much suggests tentativeness or inferiority or what you might call half-ness. I didn't entirely dismiss myself, even though startled.

And then I turned back and I thought, well Lord. Really? I'm listening for some understanding that is not me talking to me about what I usually talk about. I'm assuming I will know it because it will likely have to do with a soup kitchen. Or it will be "go promote the cause of my servant, Dorothy Day." And yet I get this plain sensible question. Are you just visiting, or are you a regular adorer?

*"Is Dorothy Day Suitable for Canonization?"Fr. Brandon O'Brien, Crisis Magazine, April 19, 2016.
**"The woman who knew what it took to be a saint," Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald online, July 2, 2018. (The article is about St. Teresa of Avila, not Day.)    

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