Faith like a fungus

Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.  Like a truffle.”  (I Kings 8:12, New Century Gen X Paraphrase Bible)

Today, let’s talk about the spiritual significance of mushrooms.[i]

By way of introduction, I’ll confess I’ve been thinking a lot about the dark side of faith.  Not the dark side in terms of Christians behaving badly, but the mystical dark side, where, for lack of a better term, “the magic happens.”  Case in point:  in the last year, I’ve preached 11 times and three of those sermons use Christ’s tomb as a central metaphor.[ii]  Besides that, in a recent spiritual development class, while my classmates drew pictures depicting the soul journey as stars and flowers and rivers of blue, yellow, and pink, I was drawing pictures of dark caves and black birds.  I started wondering if Prozac was in order.  Thanks to a wise spiritual director, however, I realized that I might actually be peeking into an experience of faith that our frequently well-mannered, sanitized, and consumerist Christianity doesn’t want us to consider.

And that, my friends, got me to thinking about fungi.

There’s a lot to love about fungi.  Without fungi, Timothy Leary would have had to get a real job.  Without fungi, buffalo wings would have faded into culinary obscurity.  Heck, without fungi, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches might never have separated,[iii] and then where would we Protestants be?

According to one carefully researched report, “Many fungi are good and useful…Since they don’t use light to make food, fungi can live in damp and dark places…Good fungus can help with many things to make the world a better place…Without fungi, we would have piles of trash everywhere because fungi…eat the trash and make it into soil. That is why we do not live in a landfill!”

Yes, fungi make good use of trash and darkness.  The same can be said of the human soul.   

The dim and secret corners of the human heart are where our spirits devour the detritus of life and make it into the kind of growing material in which Christ-like qualities can germinate and grow.  Which says a lot for the dark.  While the Bible generally associates darkness and secrecy with confused or corrupt states of being, a few tantalizing verses point to a different view.  For example, Psalm 139:11-15:

If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
   that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
   when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Now if that’s not a description of a mushroom, then I don’t know what. 

There are rewards in the darkness, for those who dare to venture there:

 I will give you the treasures of darkness
   and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
   the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  (Isaiah 45:3)

 Miners put an end to darkness,
   and search out to the farthest bound
   the ore in gloom and deep darkness.  (Job 28:3)

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.  (Psalm 51:6)

He reveals deep and hidden things;
   he knows what is in the darkness,
   and light dwells with him.  (Daniel 2:22)

The treasures of darkness and the ore in the gloom echo the promise of the resurrection and the possibility of realizing the kingdom of heaven in this life.  If nothing else, Christian faith speaks to the phenomenon of light emerging from darkness, hope overcoming despair, and life arising out of death.   Just as mushrooms grow in decay, remarkable things happen during the dark night of the soul.  Regardless of whether we wholly believe in a literal resurrection, it’s an observable fact that many of us, more than once in our lives, have emerged from times of uncertainty and grief into new understanding and new ways of living our lives.  That, my friends, is certainly resurrection.

So, although Jesus Christ spoke often of the cultivation of seeds, I think spores are an equally apt image of the kingdom of heaven.  According to the Mushroom Council,[iv] a mature white button mushroom can produce up to 16 billion spores!  Not too shabby for a little organism that grows in the dark.  Rather on par with the Son of God parceling out a few loaves and fishes to feed five thousand.

As we enter the season of Advent, the profound messages of which are almost invariably lost amid department store Santas, office cocktail parties, and luxury cars bedecked with red bows the size of washing machines,[v] let’s try to engage the darkness between the twinkle lights, acknowledge the sorrowful destinations of all that loose change we give to the Salvation Army, and celebrate the glorious notion that God came into the world obscurely.  Think of these things the next time you eat a mushroom.  And remember that no dark corner of the world or the human heart is a secret to God.

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?  says the Lord.  Do I not fill heaven and earth?  says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 23:24)

[i] Despite the fact that I live in Colorado, which just legalized recreational marijuana, this post does not weigh in on weed, magic mushrooms, or any spiritual exercise predisposed to prompting cravings for Oreos and Cheeze-Its.

[ii] And I didn’t even preach during Easter.

[iii] One of the main points of contention being whether or not leavened bread could be used for Eucharist.

[iv] Which, as you probably know, was formed after Congress passed the 1990 Mushroom Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act.

[v] And washing machines bedecked with bows the size of microwaves.  And microwaves bedecked with bows the size of…oh, whatever, you get my meaning, right?

© Marian the Seminarian, 2012


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