The Church of Sunshine and Maple
The Church of Sunshine and Maple, Washington, Vermont
Through the years of pastoral ministry I have heard many of the reasons conscientious people give for not going to church. Many Norwegian-American men, for instance, avoided holy communion because they thought they weren't good enough, which I knew was also a confession of taking a snort or two, and in a pietistic environment lips that touched liquor were disqualified from the chalice. Then, any number of good souls have absented themselves from worship because they couldn't take the preacher, moi, who had bent them all out of shape with his theology, his attire, or his failure to greet them when passing them on the avenue. Some people just can't get up and go to the church on time. Others have better things to do, like golf or sailing or reading the newspaper. All of the above I can understand: been there, considered that.
One category of non-churchgoers whose rationale has eluded my experience are those who claim to find God not in rooms with stained glass and crosses, but in the great outdoors. So this past Sunday, under the rule "don't knock it if you haven't tried it," I joined the leaf peepers parade to Vermont and found a country road where the maples had turned a winding lane into a gold and crimson cathedral. There we paused to refresh ourselves at cool bright midday, to test the hypothesis of Christian pantheists, that they felt closer to heaven among the beauties of nature than in a pew listening to a preacher.
Building: the cerulean vaulted ceiling reached further than the eye could see, the light brilliant and warm shed its beneficence extravagantly, the walls of maple rising in leafy splendor. The space was generous enough to include every citizen in Washington County, but we had it all to ourselves. The seating was, however, quite crude, just a clump of grass or a tree stump.
Welcome: it was overwhelming. The ants rushed to greet us. The mosquitoes couldn't get enough of us. The squirrels and chipmunks, however, kept a discreet distance. Thank goodness, the skunks did too.
Music: the birds their carols raised, a wonderful cacophony composed by Mother Nature. I would have enjoyed a solo from a thrush, but, despite their fame as the state bird, I suspect many of them, like many of us, are summer residents only.
Sermon: it was more like a Quaker meeting. The absence of spoken words encouraged the mind to produce sermons of its own. My mind went to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. The day lilies were gone but blue asters abounded. Solomon's glory would have been challenged by their beauty too. I did lift up my eyes to the hills. The sun didn't smite me by day. The blessed peacefulness of the moment did crowd out worldly cares. A sign posted on a nearby pine tree, about not hunting on this land if you won't let others hunt on yours, reminded me that nature, like human society, can also be "blood red in tooth and nail"... and deer rifle.
Children: we didn't bring ours, but had we, they would have endorsed the finding of those with whom this review began, what one of their number calls herself, a devout horticulturalist. In fact, Grandson Bobby, who suffered chills Sunday evening claimed in all seriousness they were an infliction of a long sermon. The unfailing remedy, of course, was pizza.
Rating: one halo, maybe two if you have an artistic eye, like my wife and her mother. Mrs Davis has been known to study the striations in rock outcroppings for hours, fascinated by the patterns of line. But I am a people person, a word person. My soul needs to be surrounded with other people. I need to have my mind no less than my heart and eye stimulated. I want to sing God's praises, not just listen to them or photograph them. Next time we go leaf peeping, it will be a week day. I'll leave the leafy cathedrals to others.