Over a 150 visits to the Castor Oil Tree today. Maybe I got your attention.
Or maybe it's some hackers in Russia trying to take over my blog.
Or maybe I shouldn't care one way or another. The writing is what matters to me, not who is reading.
As a 'thank you' however, I'll reprint the first post ever, though it's not the anniversary yet. I really didn't know what I was doing back then. But now, some 2048 posts later, I still don't know what I'm doing. Perhaps that the point--not knowing what you're doing drives you either to crash through life...or to 'ponder'.
Sitting under the Castor Oil Tree (March 7, 2009)
The character in the Bible I have
always been drawn to in Jonah. I identify with his story. Like Jonah, I
have experienced being taken where I didn't want to go by God and I've
been disgruntled with the way things went. The belly of a big old fish
isn't a pleasant means of travel either!
The story ends (in case you don't
know it) with Jonah upset and complaining on a hillside over the city of
Nineveh, which God has saved through Jonah. Jonah didn't want to go
there to start with--hence the ride in the fish stomach--and predicted
that God would save the city though it should have been destroyed for
its wickedness. "You dragged me half way around the world," he tells
God, "and didn't destroy the city....I knew it would turn out this way.
I'm angry, so angry I could die!"
God causes a tree to grow to shade
Jonah from the sun (scholars think it might have been a Castor oil
tree--the implications are astonishing!). Then God sends a worm to kill
the tree. Well, that sets Jonah off! "How dare you kill my tree?" he
challenges the creator. "I'm so angry I could die...."
God simply reminds him that he is
upset at the death of a tree he didn't plant or nurture and yet he
doesn't see the value of saving all the people of the great city
Nineveh...along with their cattle and beasts.
And the story ends. No resolution.
Jonah simply left to ponder all that. There's no sequel either--no
"Jonah II" or "Jonah: the next chapter", nothing like that. It's just
Jonah, sitting under the bare branches of the dead tree, pondering.
What I want to do is use this blog
to do simply that, ponder about things. I've been an Episcopal priest
for over 30 years. I'm approaching a time to retire and I've got a lot
of pondering left to do--about God, about the church, about religion,
about life and death and everything involved in that. Before the big
fish swallowed me up and carried me to my own Nineveh (ordination in the
Episcopal Church) I had intended a vastly different life. I was going to
write "The Great American Novel" for starters and get a PhD in
American Literature and disappear into some small liberal arts college,
most likely in the Mid-Atlantic states and teach people like me--rural
people, Appalachians and southerners, simple people, deep thinkers
though slow talkers...lovely for all that--to love words and write words
God (I suppose, though I even ponder
that...) had other ideas and I ended up spending most of my ministry in the wilds of two cities in Connecticut (of all places)
among tribes so foreign to me I scarcely understood their language and
whose customs confounded me. And I found myself often among people (The
Episcopal Cult) who made me anxious by their very being. Which is why I
stuck to urban churches, I suppose--being a priest in Greenwich would
have sent me into some form of shock...as I would have driven them to
hypertension at the least.
I am one who 'ponders' quite a bit
and hoped this might be a way to 'ponder in print' for anyone else who
might be leaning in that direction to read.
Ever so often, someone calls my
bluff when I go into my "I'm just a boy from the mountains of West
Virginia" persona. And I know they're right. I've lived too long among
the heathens of New England to be able to avoid absorbing some of their
alien customs and ways of thinking. Plus, I've been involved in too much
education to pretend to be a rube from the hills. But I do, from time
to time, miss that boy who grew up in a part of the world as foreign as
Albania to most people, where the lush and endless mountains pressed
down so majestically that there were few places, where I lived, that
were flat in an area wider than a football field. That boy knew secrets I
am only beginning, having entered my sixth decade of the journey toward
the Lover of Souls, to remember and cherish.
My maternal grandmother, who had as
much influence on me as anyone I know, used to say--"Jimmy, don't get
above your raisin'". I probably have done that, in more ways that I'm
able to recognize, but I ponder that part of me--buried deeply below
layer after layer of living (as the mountains were layer after layer of
Sometimes I get a fleeting glimpse
of him, running madly into the woods that surrounded him on all sides,
spending hours seeking paths through the deep tangles of forest,
climbing upward, ever upward until he found a place to sit and look down
on the little town where he lived--spread out like a toy village to
him--so he could ponder, alone and undisturbed, for a while.
When I was in high school, I wrote a
regular column for the school newspaper call "The Outsider". As I
ponder my life, I realize that has been a constant: I've always felt
just beyond the fringe wherever I was. I've watched much more than I've
participated. And I've pondered many things.
So, what I've decided to do is sit
here on the hillside for a while, beneath the ruins of the Castor oil
tree and ponder some more. And, if you wish, share my pondering with
you--whoever you are out there in cyber-Land.
Two caveats: I'm pretty much a
Luddite when it comes to technology--probably smart enough to learn
about it but never very interested, so this blog is an adventure for me.
My friend Sandy is helping me so it shouldn't be too much of a mess.
Secondly, I've realized writing this that there is no 'spell check' on
the blog. Either I can get a dictionary or ask your forgiveness for my
spelling. I'm a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa ENGLISH major (WVU '69)
who never could conquer spelling all the words I longed to write.
I suppose I'll just ask your tolerance.
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