Today is February 14, a day of love in popular culture, of little flying Cupids and heart-shaped candy with the taste of “Won’t you be mine?” scrolled upon them. But did you know it’s also a day of brightly frosted cakes in the shape of the State of Oregon and foreheads smudged with ashen signs of the cross? On top of the celebration of St. Valentine in on our popular calendar it is Oregon’s birthday on the political calendar, sealed by a vote 159 years ago, in the winter of 1859, in a place called Champoeg just down the road from here. And, amazingly, in 2018 this also marks Ash Wednesday, providing for a rare trifecta of love interests as the sun rises over the Cascade Mountains.
St. Valentine Day
I’m sure there are some cynics among us who abstain from this syrupy sentimental observance for political and moral reasons, and rightly so. Today will undoubtedly bring a surge of domestic violence in homes and bedrooms across our country in the name of love. I have always tried to use the occasion as another chance to stop for a moment and honor the most intimate loves of my life. So here they are.
First, my wife Debbie: she and I have grown together over the 44 years of our loving, into flesh of each other’s flesh and bone of our bone. From my side, she has been with me through the utter darkness of my deepest depressions and the ecstacies of my relentless creative endeavors. Her love for me seems to grow despite my worst and in celebration of my best. She has been the anchor of my life’s best accomplishments: I have grown to be a good husband under her mentorship and a pretty great father in partnership with her. If I have been able to contribute anything of enduring value in the worldwide struggle for justice, peace and the integrity of creation, I could only have done it because I always know I can regularly retreat to her embrace and, no matter what success or failure, it matters not.
From her side, I can only trust, as I rise each morning, that she will know enough of my love and devotion, lust, trust, respect and whatever intimacy I can muster that she will choose to honor the covenant we made so long ago and decide to stay around one more day.
And next in our lives are our son Joel and his life partner Laura and our daughter Erin and her life partner Amy. Joining our most intimate parts in the creative work of bearing, rearing, nurturing, and presenting our children to this great universe of love and baptizing them into the embrace of Holy Mother Earth will always represent the very best of what we have been able to contribute to the generations. Connecting their chosen loves within that sacred circle multiplies our joy and increases our hope for the world.
Our children are a marvel to us, and always have been. In the words of Pablo Casals: “Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there has never been another child precisely like you. And look at your body, what a wonder it is! Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, (a Rosa Parks), a Michelangelo, (an Oprah), a Gandhi, a Beethoven, (a Steph Curry)! You have the capacity of anything! Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. You must work—we all must work—to make this world worthy of its children.”
When Erin was in Elementary School in Corvallis, she was studying Oregon history and we, she and I, began a long annual tradition of creating a birthday cake in the shape of the State of Oregon each February 14. This day is no different than February 14th’s past and so, later this afternoon, we will interrupt one of Erin’s Algebra or Calculus classes at the International School of Beaverton to deliver this year’s creation. As I often do on the night of February 13th, I make a sheet cake from my favorite choices of recipes. This year it’s that brownie cake with huge chunks of chocolate. Imagine the flavor of decadence and ecstasy in your taste buds as you bite into the rainforest above Astoria or the Siuslaw River at it’s source near Lorane, the falls at Celilo, the painted desert near Mitchell, the salt flats of Malheur, the snow of the Wallowas, or the onion plains of the Treasure Valley and the silver veins near Jordan Valley.
As the brownie cake was cooling, I went to the bookshelf as tradition often bids me do. I pulled down the Oregon Atlas. It is full of maps: maps of Oregon towns and cities, of demographics, maps of known Indian tribes in 1850, topographic maps, maps of eco-regions, maps of language groups, of rainfall, of watersheds and economic development histories and political persuasions.
This time I decided to mix the colors of frostings that would help me re-create the map of annual precipitation across Oregon.
I love these colors. Not bad for the father of an artist eh? Erin is a genius with colors and paint, charcoal and pencil. A real artist. So I try not to embarrass her in my geographic recipes. But as we deliver the State of Oregon to our daughter this afternoon, I have to stop and wonder what kind of State, what state of our State we are delivering to our grandchildren. Surely a map of precipitation would it least have us pause as we partake of the chocolate, to consider our climate future. The heritage we pass on is a recipe for disaster, more intense storm events, deeper droughts and the intending wildfires, larger snowpacks then no snowpacks at all. Every year is one that will melt the frosting of what we would otherwise hope…faster, more violent run-off, acidified oceans, oyster decline, dead zones and disentigrating corral reefs. Not to take the shine off the enjoyment of the cake our daughter and Amy will share with their friends around their dinner table tonight, but this is a preponderance we must quickly digest.
I have not yet gone down to church to receive the smudge of the oil and ash on my forehead, so I will leave my final reflection on today’s trifecta of meaning for my next blog, but let me leave you with this preliminary thought so I can get on with my day of love and enjoyment with Debbie.
These words came to Job out of the whirlwind and we must hear them again for our time. Presumably these are the words of God, whomever and whatever power they may represent for us today:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like the human you are. I will question you and you answer me! Where were you when I laid the foundations of Earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements, you seem to think you know! Who stretched the line or laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the children of God shouted for joy? Do you know the way to the dwelling of light? Where is the place of darkness? Do you know the rules of the skies or the limits of earth? Do you know when the mountain goats bring forth? Do you know who has let the wild animals go free?
After God’s diatribe that lasts for several pages, Job finally gets it. Job understands in the very same way we must understand who and what is in charge and who is not in charge. And his response is as our response must be. He shuts his mouth as we must shut ours. He stops talking just to hear himself talk. He realizes as we must realize, that we are tiny specks in an immense thing. As wondrous and marvelous as we each are…even all put together…in the whole scheme of things we don’t amount to much, and we know even less and we must learn the humility that we can no longer live as if we could be separate from the life that is all and is in all. Job’s final words:
I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful
for me which I did not know. I had heard of thee by the hearing
of the ear but now my eye sees thee. Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.
Now don’t go all liberal on me and get all bent out of shape by the words “despise” and “repent.” Despise here means to let go, to lose the attitude, to disengage from the pretense of ultimate knowledge, power or control, to quit the hubris for good and embrace humility. Repent means to about-face, turn around, find a new direction, a direction compatible with the limits and possibilities inherent in the way Creation is made.
If we are to realize our hopes for this awesome and endangered Planet it will surely be for some kind of love revolution, heretofore only glimpsed from afar. So for today, February 14, 2018, the trifecta of Valentines Day, Oregon’s Birthday and the Day of Repentance in Dust and Ashes, let us again ponder our loves and what our allegiance to those we most care about means in the places we cherish and the lives we choose to live in sacrifice and joy.