November 24, 2017

Mud season and me

lot-cleanup-2009

These are the ugly days.

Before the new season springs forth in delicate color and texture, the world looks like a frat house the day after.

The grass is patchy, brown and nubby, and with every step comes the possibility your sneaker treads will lose the battle with God’s good mud.

Whatever snow remains crouches in the shadows in gray-black crystallized fear of extinction.

The leaves that didn’t get raked up in the fall lie soaked and limp in piles like a bowl of day-old corn flakes abandoned in the kitchen sink.

The curbs try their best to corral the litter that skitters across the street. Plastic grocery bags shriveled up like withered balloons, cigarette butts and assorted bits of paper, plastic, and metal, smashed styrofoam cups and fast food wrappers along with receipts and torn paper bags shiver and tumble in the freshening breeze.

The yard is strewn with sticks, pine cones, sweet gum balls, unraked leaves and fugitive mulch, a few tools and toys that didn’t get picked up before the snow fell, and whatever litter jumped the curb and made a break for it.

It is good that the rain comes in spring. The world needs to be washed clean.

12842008The other day I drove through MacDonald’s in the rain and fog and as the woman handed me my coffee, she said, “Have a great day. I know the weather’s kind of ugly but it’s better than snow, right?”

I laughed and said, “Sorry, I’m one of those guys who likes the snow better.”

“Not me!” she said with mock dismay before she wished me a good day again.

After the last snow, the world was gray but lovely. Clean. Frigid, but as harmonious as a well-made bed. God’s good earth was blanketed smooth, white, still, exquisite, pleasing.

I like those winter landscapes because they are so unlike my life, my mind, the inner me. My bed is all askew, covers and pillows tossed every which way, a downy debris pile of blankets and sheets. I am an unmade bed.

And I am the world in mud season, after the snow and before the blooms.

Litter blows in and through my life and mud cakes the treads of my sneakers.

I don’t see many signs of life yet, only a freshening wind that blows warmer, hopeful air.

Comments

  1. Patricia says:

    Truth – beautifully phrased.

  2. A fresh dumping of pure, white snow…covers all the mud in your life. You are Baptized. Don’t believe your eyes! Believe His promises…and live in those…freely!

    Last nights sermon (only 11 min. ) lands on the freedom of that pure snow and what it means for our daily living. It’s really quite awesome. I’d be surprised if (even) anyone here didn’t really love this one. Really:

    http://theoldadam.com/2015/03/12/christian-discipleship-not-an-attempt-to-move-to-virtue/

    Thanks, Mike!

    • Dana Ames says:

      Steve, I’m really curious. Does Lutheran theology allow for any transformation of one’s life after baptism?

      Dana

      • Dana, I’m curious as to why Steve calls Baptist theology dangerous yet keeps pushing baptism as a panacea.

        I mean, I’m a Baptist and even I don’t go that far.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Ted, my question isn’t about the efficacy of baptism, but rather about sanctification – I noticed the title of the sermon and wondered what Lutheran theology has to say about virtue in the life of a Christian (other than “virtuous living will not save anyone”).

          D.

          • We say that virtue is great! As far as it goes.

            The Christian life is not a move from sin…to virtue. But rather it is a move from virtue…to God’s grace.

            And that grace is given to us…in our Baptisms.

            You’re never going to be a more righteous Christian, than at the moment that you were Baptized.

            That’s Lutheranism in a nutshell.

          • Dana Ames says:

            Steve, I’m not talking about being “righteous” – I just want to know what grace is FOR.

            Is there a possibility of beginning to be transformed in this life? Or are we always and forever to be “snow-covered dung”? How can we love our neighbor if our innermost being isn’t moved from self-centeredness, somehow?

            D.

        • A Simple Hillbilly says:

          Why is it that the Baptist is always the one who never talks about baptism? (I’m sure you’ve heard that one before) 🙂

          I can’t speak for Lutheran theology, but the Methodist and Presbyterian churches I have attended frequently allude to “thinking back your baptism.” Don’t ask me to explain this thinking because every time I have asked about this idea I get either blank stares or a discussion on why they baptize infants. But my best guess is that illustrations of baptism holds a very special place, which is a concept that I could get on board with.

          • Hillbilly, I’ll bite (I’m always interested in a good Baptist joke). Why do we never talk about baptism?

            I already know the light bulb joke. And the one about the beer.

          • Robert F says:

            Since I was an infant when I was baptized, I cannot actually remember anything about my baptism. I can of course reflect on the theological implications that baptism is said to have, and I used to try to do this fairly often, but I’ve never found it helpful when I’ve been a difficult spiritual spot. It has always seemed extremely abstract, words without any experience to connecting them.

            When I’m in a difficult spot now, I don’t try to remember my baptism; I just try to remember Jesus, the things he said and did, and I speak to him. He is after all a living person, not a theological proposition; and if he’s not a living person, then no amount of remembering is going to do any good.

        • Ted,

          Baptist theology (So. Baptist theology as well as non-denom., Pentecostal, etc.) denies that God is actually and present in Baptism. They say that Baptism is just a symbol. Nothing really happens outside of your commitment.
          We are 180 degrees from that point of view.

          • That sounds like a Baptist theology of the eucharist (Oh, but we don’t CALL it eucharist! That would be a Papist thing to say; we call it “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper”).

            Although we would say that God is indeed present (whether communion or baptism), but no more so than at any other time.

            I try not to argue that stuff in my church. Mostly it just plain doesn’t come up.

        • Robert F says:

          I guess you could say the same thing about baptism as about voting: Be baptized early, and be baptized often.

      • Dana,

        Sure there’s transformation!

        But much of the time we can’t see it. But we trust that God will complete the good work in us that He started. Not because of our cooperation…but in spite of it.

        • Steve, would you call that transformation the “sanctification” that’s going around in new-calvinist buzz these days?

          I could be mistaken, but I thought Lutherans typically don’t get into sanctification, it being a tad works-oriented and at odds with sola fide & sola gratia. Or is that covered in what you said, “Not because of our cooperation…but in spite of it.”?

          • We believe whole heartedly in sanctification.

            The bible uses sanctification and justification interchangeably.

            God sanctifies…and God justifies.

            Of course He’s at work in us. But so much of that work remains hidden to our eyes.

            But it is happening. We trust it is, because He said it is.

          • OK, it’s a matter of definitions, then. A lot of the people who talk sanctification don’t consider it the same as justification. Justification, according to them, comes first, then sanctification as an ongoing process toward holiness or glorification (Do I have that right? No matter; I think it’s a poor model).

            Or is sanctification the same as glorification, according to them? Dunno. See Romans 8:28-30 for some, uh, justification of that theology.

        • And some wise words from my favorite Lutheran: “That faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God.”

          Bonhoeffer

        • Dana Ames says:

          “Not because of our cooperation… but in spite of it.”

          So God transforms us without our consent? Does God ever actually look beyond the snow, and see and love ME (not dung!)? What does St Paul mean when he tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and in the same breath says that God is at work in us? How can God be at work in us if “grace” is some created thing that is bestowed upon us, rather than God himself (the Holy Spirit) actually acting within us? What does it ultimately mean to be a human being?

          I don’t expect you to answer these questions. I bring them up to illustrate the kinds of things I was wrestling with in the Ev. wilderness, and even before I got there. I could not find satisfactory answers in any western theology. I’m glad you found the answers to your questions somewhere within Christianity.

          I’m sure Luther loved the Lord, and we know that he wrestled with his questions, too. I can identify with his need for Assurance – but that’s about all. I don’t believe humans are puppets. I don’t believe that humans are responsible for salvation – and yet we must actually want God, because that’s how love works. I don’t want God to look at me and see dung, or even Jesus (or his blood); I want him to look at ME and see ME and love ME. I think Luther’s glory/cross dichotomy has way too narrow a focus. I think that continually trying to bring someone to a place where s/he sees “the law” doesn’t work and therefore must cast oneself on God’s mercy, while true, can easily produce a constant state of existential despair, not peace or gratitude – it’s counterproductive. I think that God means for us to be virtuous not to try to earn anything, including “salvation”, but because that’s how fully human beings act from love.

          I’m not trying to hammer on you; I just wish you could have real conversations here. I think there’s a lot more to you and your life than the sameness of your comments indicates. We are all where we are because of reasons, and some of them are very substantial ones; each of us believes his/her current theology is “right” – or at least adequate for the time being… And I know I still exhibit signs of “convertitis” re Orthodoxy – that’s a lack of humility and love on my part.

          Forgive me.

          Dana

  3. Mud season is my second favorite to autumn’s brisk harvest. It looks ugly, but it is my first opportunity to get outside for the season and start cleaning. It means I need to pick up all the detritus from the last year, set things in order, and prepare for the season ahead. If I want to enjoy autumn with fresh pumpkin pie and other garden produce, I have to prune and pick up now.

    I love it in all its ugliness because it infuses me with an almost manic energy.

    Good post.

  4. Robert F says:

    “April is the cruelest month, breeding
    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.”

    T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland: 1. The Burial of the Dead, verses 1-4

  5. Good stuff, Mike. An apt analogy opens the mind.

  6. God created the month of March to show people who don’t drink what a hangover feels like. — Garrison Keillor

    Very poetic ruminations, Chaplain Mike. Very nice.

  7. I used to like the snow, because, living in the south, it was exotic: very rare, disruptive when it comes, and gone quickly.

    Then we moved to the north, and I realized what it’s like to live with snow ALL WINTER LONG. How the fresh snow looks pretty and highlights aspects of the landscape we wouldn’t see without it. How along the roadside the snow looks nasty and fouled and worse than the mud that’s underneath. And how my heart leaps to see the snow receding and the grass appearing this time of year.

    I don’t know how to spiritualize this but it’s just what I notice.

    • Ah, but there is a unique beauty to snow that only the north people can understand. It happens mid-January, when the snow has been around, but new snow falls, the night goes quiet, and everything glitters and crunches. You look up, and you see the snow gently falling illuminated in the street lamps, and you look down, and see a light dusting that will blend in and disappear by the morning. Meanwhile, the world is at peace, and everything is new.

      I really want to move away from the northern Midwest, but I’ll miss those magical snowy January nights.

      • Dana Ames says:

        The silence after a thick blanket of new-fallen snow is like no other.

        D.

      • cermak_rd says:

        I have friends who live in Finland who remark that it’s better when there is snow because the world is not so dark because it shines.

  8. Out west, we’ve been “a dry and weary land where there is no water”. It’s supposed to be over 90 degrees this weekend.
    Up north, friends have been excited that their rivers are muddy, even though it means we can’t fish well. The mud is messy, but it also means that we at least got enough water to make some mud!

  9. OldProphet says:

    I have no concept of a mud season. I live in a desert, the Mojave, to be exact. There’s 4 seasons though, warm, warmer, hot, and blistering. When it rains, we wonder, “what did we do?”. Should we sacrifice a calf or something? Actually I have seen snow before. To me, your describing the mud season to me is akin to the blind men trying to describe what an elephant looks like. But I love the desert. If you want to really see the grandeur of God’s creative hand, then you can see it here.

    • How appropriate that someone called “OldProphet” should live in the desert!

    • Dana Ames says:

      One Christmas when we lived in the SF Valley, we were traveling north to visit the parents and had to detour via hwy 14 through Mohave, because the Grapevine was closed. One of the most wondrous things I have ever seen was snow-covered Joshua trees!

      Dana

    • I now live someplace too urban to have mud season. We get the rest of what Mike wrote of, just without the mud. Where I grew up, when we were being an odd blend of humorous and complaining, the four seasons were Mud, Black Fly, Tourist, and Winter. Mud was the best of them.

    • cermak_rd says:

      One year Dad and I drove through the desert in Arizona. It was so green! Apparently it was one of those one in a hundred years year when there had been a lot of rainfall. my goodness! The life that was just bursting forth out of every square inch. Blooms on plants I didn’t even know could bloom! And we had a flash flood in Flagstaff that night.

    • Danielle says:

      “I have no concept of a mud season.”

      Ah, but you do know about the silence.

      That caught me totally off-guard the first time I was in (hot) desert. We were in Southern Utah and we outside in the middle of nowhere, in the dark.

      And there was no sound, anywhere.

      Everywhere I’ve ever lived was wet, so there were always insects. It didn’t occur to me that there wouldn’t be the same constant buzzing out there.

    • I’ve never been a fan of the heat, especially in summer, but I’ve also never had air conditioning. I hear that changes your perspective on things, lol. Otherwise, sounds like a lot of misery and insomnia and daily migraines.

      • I somewhat have the fantasy of wanting to get lost in the desert, or go camping and take peyote under the stars, or go driving through the desert late at night listening to some Queens of the Stone Age…

        Maybe one day.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Ach, skip the peyote. I’ve been in the desert at night – there’s enough there for the senses and thoughts and heart without it.

          Go in the spring to see some of the plants bloom and the really vast amount of life there in the daylight. Find a place away from city lights and as much noise as possible (there are plenty of parks, national monuments and other public lands) and simply experience the sunset and silence, and the midnight blue of the sky and the closeness of the stars.

          D.

  10. Randy Thompson says:

    A wonderful meditation on mud season, but I must point out that here in New Hampshire, there is still a foot and a half of snow on the ground, even after a pretty good thaw. And, there’s more snow expected this Saturday.

    We have black flies here in mud season (between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, generally). They add a demonic element to the mud, muck and fast food litter,

    Yet, even in mud season, there is the encouragement of crocuses and snowdrops. Mud and flowers go together, and that’s what it is to be a human being.

  11. Nice, Chap Mike. Your beautiful prose reminded me of the beginning of U2’s “White as Snow.”

    “Where I came from there were no hills at all
    The land was flat, the highway straight and wide
    My brother and I would drive for hours
    Like we had years instead of days
    Our faces as pale as the dirty snow

    Once I knew there was a love divine
    Then came a time I thought it knew me not
    Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
    Only the lamb as white as snow.”

  12. Rick Ro. says:

    Your post also reminds me of this recent Kate Bush album…

    http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/16067-50-words-for-snow/

  13. Temperatures this week in 40’s and even 50’s with bright sunshine in Northern Michigan after a prolonged and bitter winter, down to 30 below here. Been snowshoeing a lot this week as the foot of snow turns to slush, my last chance to cross my swamps until next winter. One of the ways I pay my dues here is picking up roadside litter. Should be an interesting winter’s accumulation. Critters are as glad as I am to see some mud.

    • Robert F says:

      Are you in the Upper Peninsula, Charles?

      • Northern Lower Peninsula, halfway in between Big Rapids and Cadillac. Not a Yooper.

        • When I was at Michigan State University as an undergraduate, I had a roommate who came from way up northwest on the U.P. He didn’t have a license or car, but he would hitchhike the four-hundred (?) mile trip up and back every couple of months. At the time, I thought this was tremendously courageous of him.

          • The further north, the less traffic, but probably also people more willing to give you a ride. Yes, it would have been daunting to most people even back then, but Yoopers are a different breed. I used to hitchhike from Ann Arbor to East Lansing to see my girlfriend, around 1961. Was probably the only guy in the whole state with long hair and a beard at the time, which had its own difficulties.

  14. Christiane says:

    just toured the back yard . . . yep, mud season is here . . .
    lots of work needed, lots of pruning, especially of the dead stuff

    there are reasons why the Church holds Lent within ‘mud season’
    good timing for an honest self inventory . . . yep, mud season is here
    lots of work needed, lots of pruning, especially of the dead stuff

    our jonquils sadly fell over in this last week of chaotic weather, and are laying down for a rest, likely overcome by too much of what can overcome jonquils in mud season,
    but the blooms are still yellow, and the stems aren’t broken, just wilted, just napping on the earth
    . . . when the Sun returns, I hope, I believe it’s possible our jonquils will thrive again in its light and warmth

    Credo 🙂

  15. Robert F says:

    in the warmer weather
    the recent snow melts

    the waters stream
    from farms above

    across our street
    into the swelling creek

    outside our front window
    nubs of crocuses

    push up through the dirt
    green and bright in the sun

  16. Thanks for a beautiful meditation. It’s losing, low and lambasted that we emerge from this thing but grace is ever present and never diminished. Now the faint inkling of a change in the air. A bass, substratal vibration of resurrection. Hope. Welcome to the ugly and welcome to what emerges from its clutches. It’s all grace.