Saturday, April 18, 2015

Rabbits in the Valley

The essence of all growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder whatever responsibility this entails – Bill Wilson

Today I walked out to the truck parked by the church and startled a couple of rabbits. I would say it was a hare raising experience, but it is too early in the column to ear-i-tate you with such an awful pun, so I won’t.

But it did cause me to wonder whether those fur balls hopping around the vehicle were hares or rabbits. I always knew there was a difference between the two critters but must confess I wasn’t sure just what that difference might be. I grew up in the city and so such knowledge was never clearly imparted to us city dwellers. The only wild life we saw were the patrons we observed staggering out of the dozen or so bars and taverns lining 15th Avenue between school and home – a route that ran about ten blocks.

So, being the curious sort of fellow I am (and there are many people who will affirm the curiousness that is me, or I, or whatever the pronoun is supposed to be), I ran back into the office and hopped on the computer and set about investigating those sorts of details that would help me identify what form of Lagomorphs I was dealing with.

I discovered the main differences between the two critters is that hares generally have longer hind legs, longer ears, change colors (white in winter, gray or brown in summer), live in above-ground nests, and eat leaves and twigs; while rabbits tend to me smaller, stay one color year-round, live in holes, have shorter hind legs and ears, and prefer a softer diet of grasses and vegetables (like carrots). Rabbits tend to be more social, and hares tend to remain wild, even in captivity.

So it turns out the buns I saw did indeed belong to a couple of bunny-rabbits, and while they had been startled by my sudden appearance, they never-the-less did not run far, and they sat in the shade of the truck while listening ever so politely to my best Doctor Dolittle impression (which is NOT to be missed if you are ever in need of a truly wince-inducing moment in your life).

I used to talk to crows too, by the way, but had to stop when parishioners began to say I was stark raven mad.

In any case, the point I am trying to make in the telling of this tale is that I like to learn. That would surprise a lot of people as I devoted much of my school life to avoiding doing just that, but I always was a late bloomer – although why anyone would ever say that is another mystery, for I have never worn bloomers, but I’ll leave that investigation for another time.

The thing is, I have come to realize I like to learn things I never knew before. All of a sudden my curiosity gene has sprouted, and I am willing and able to look things up.

I realize that there are times ignorance is bliss, but only a hare-brained idiot would want to stay that way. The challenge is in coming to realize that facts by themselves are just silly little things, but putting them into context can make them helpful little things.

Take the difference between hares and rabbits. How is knowing the difference helpful? Well, first of all, a rabbit stew is quite tasty, but no one wants to see a hare in their soup, right? So there is that.

Secondly, if you were driving a Volkswagen Rabbit, you would want to be real careful driving around hare-pin turns, right?

And imagine how smart you would sound at the coffee shop as you disclose that Bugs Bunny is actually a mash-up composite of hare and rabbit (long ears and leg = hare, but lives in hole and eats carrots = rabbit)! You’ll be known far and wide as the town’s Einstein, which would be quite a feat considering the competition, eh?

Curiosity is a gift of God and learning about different kinds of Lagomorphs was fun. What’s more, it does not take a great Lepus of faith to conclude we should care for all creatures great and small in this, our valley.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter in the Valley

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin … Matthew 6:28

Boy, Easter is almost upon us once again. A lady complained the other day that it seemed to come awfully early this year, but actually it is just about smack dab in the middle of where it belongs.

I did some research and it turns out that Easter is not scheduled by Hallmark, but rather by the moon and the sun. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox. Spring falls on or about March 22 each year, and this year the first full moon of spring takes place on Saturday, April 4 so, voila, Easter is the following day (Sunday, April 5)!

So Easter moves around, unlike Christmas, which is always December 25, or Thanksgiving, which is always the fourth Thursday in November (or the Fourth of July, which, interestingly, is celebrated annually on July 4).

Easter moves around, but it does feel early. Easter is a spring-time festival, and yet no matter how sunny it is, the weather is still pretty chilly (so why isn’t the main Easter dish chili instead of ham or lamb?).

I remember being outside for our annual family Easter photograph (as a child). It was a beautiful day in Seattle. The clouds had parted for a nanosecond and the sun was shining.

My brother and I were wearing suits, with starched white shirts and narrow black ties; our sisters had on flowery sun-dresses and bonnets; dad looked quite dapper in his green suit and a much more stylish wide tie (that only hung about half way down to his belt). We were not a very fashion-savvy family; we were much more at home in jeans with holes torn in the knees, short-sleeve checked shirts with pockets half-ripped-off, and wearing dress shoes with white socks, or tennis shoes with black dress socks. Our skills in fashion were a large reason I became a priest!

Mom however, was the fountain of elegance in our family. She always dressed sharp. She was a seamstress, making her own clothes. She also dabbled in millinery; she had one broad-brimmed hat she would fix up every Easter (for ladies were expected to have their heads covered in church back in those days). She would change the ribbons and decorations that would give those who noticed such things the impression that she had a new bonnet every year.

It seemed a silly tradition (both the “wearing a bonnet” and “making it look new”) and yet it was important to her. As she explained, “When we come into the House of God, we should dress in a manner that shows no less honor than if we were visiting the mayor or president.”

Getting back to my story, it was a beautiful day in Seattle, but it was still very chilly. I remember thinking, “It’s Easter! How can it be so cold?” Somehow I thought the day should dictate the kind of weather we’d have, but it didn’t. I thought it SHOULD be warm, but it wasn’t. Weather is an independent sort of thinker and, quite often, a sneaky sort of stinker!

It is what it is, and that’s what’s important. It turns out we can’t control the sun or the moon or the weather, but we can control how we respond.

I will admit that I still dress up for church – even when I’m not working. I still prefer to dress formally for worship. I have learned to wear dress socks with my dress shoes. I know that God is less concerned with the state of my clothes and more with the state of my heart, and yet I also think church is about God more than it is about my comfort – and if I look the part on Sunday, I may be more likely to act the part the rest of the week.

There are 168 hours between Sundays. For 167 hours, I can dress like the slob I am and pretty much go where I want and do what I please (within the limits of law, culture, and finances). But for the one hour I am called to stand, sit, and kneel before the King, I want to shine as best I can – a lily in God’s own Garden, and that warms my heart here in this, our valley.