Tag Archives: nature

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


God’s eye is on the sparrow

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Luke 12:6-7

About three years ago, a new couple moved into our condo complex.  Despite being noisy and shrill and occasionally waking us up with early morning squabbling – sometimes with each other and sometimes with other residents – they have been good neighbors.  And they’ve been even better parents.  We figure by now they probably have at least nine kids.  Not all of them living at home, of course.  Because when home is forty-five feet above ground, it’s important to make sure you get each batch of kids out on their own and on the wing as soon as possible.

I’m talking about a family of crows.

In early April, we noticed that our nesting pair had returned to their favorite address – a humongous pine tree right across from our third-floor balcony with a cup-like crown that makes seeing the actual nest impossible, even with binoculars.  Except for the nearly daily intrusion of one particularly pestiferous squirrel, the crow family lives entirely unmolested and largely, I suspect, undetected.

In mid-May, we heard the first peepings of baby crows.  Three weeks later, the peepings had become baby crow caws.  Good efforts, but needing a lot of work to become good throaty adult crow cackles.  Comparatively speaking, the baby crows sound like they are gargling with salt water.

So, we’ve had a good time watching the parents take turns scouting for worms and moths, patrolling the neighborhood, watching for predators (like the big owl that occasionally comes calling in the evening), and kicking the crap out of the squirrels.  Then, came the big storm.

Eastern Colorado is similar to Kansas in terms of violent high plains weather.  Here in Denver, we don’t see much of that.  Once in a while, a cloud will turn lumpy and green and the local meteorologists go berserk with up-to-the-minute reporting.  And sometimes, we get squishy, pea-sized hail that mushes down the potted plants for awhile, but for the most part, Denver weather, even in high summer, is pretty mellow.

So, last week, when we found ourselves under tornado watch, with round-the-clock weather coverage on every station and lightning that reminded us of CNN footage of the Battle of Baghdad, deluged with buckets of rain and hail in such quantity that five days later, some parts of town still had remnant drifts of it, we worried about the crow family in the top of the pine tree.

 The morning after the night-long bombardment, coffee cup in hand, I dejectedly surveyed the damage to our tiny container garden – pepper plant shredded, tomato plant broken in several places, and lettuce smashed and frozen under half an inch of congealed hail.  Picking miserably at the soggy remains of what had been a rather magnificent viola, I suddenly remembered the crow family.  I tried to see them in their nest, which, as I said before, is an exercise in futility.  But eventually, I saw one of the parents fly in with a tasty bug in its beak and I heard the baby crows’ enthusiastic gargling.  I realized that all was actually all right with the world.

I need to remember that family of crows, crouching together in a swaying tree top with sheets of rain and hail pounding them relentlessly.  I need to remember that darkness and deluge are part of our mortal experience and that God is compassionate in our suffering.  God also keeps a longer view of life than I am generally able to muster. That vision apparently does not include home grown lettuce this year.  But it may include a Lazarus-like banana pepper plant and half a tomato plant, both of which sprouted blossoms over the weekend.  And it definitely includes a measure of grace for a couple of nesting crows.

This morning, we were treated to the highly anticipated “first flying lesson” of the year.  Parents perched on buildings across the parking lot, cawing and barking encouragement to three charcoal grey, fluffy chicks who did not seem at all convinced that flying is a very good idea.  Every once in awhile, one of them awkwardly flapped its wings and tumbled inelegantly over to an adjacent branch.  The most enthusiasm they showed all morning was for breakfast, brought at intervals by whichever parent wasn’t presently engaged in aviation instruction.  My husband and I worried a little that a baby might lose its footing and go crashing to the ground.  But their parents seem to be watching out for them pretty well.  And, I think, so is God.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to God, from care God sets me free;
God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know God watches me.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For God’s eye is on the sparrow,
And I know God watches me.

– From “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” by Civilla D. Martin and Charles H. Gabriel, 1905


© Marian the Seminarian, 2012

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