Just before this first blast of winter, I pulled from some
rock what I first thought was an old axe handle. Turned out
it wasn’t that at all but a fossilized part of the stalk
of a giant fern that grew here maybe 400 million years ago.
It’s one of the oldest, perhaps the oldest hunk of fossil
tree ever found, and when I get it back from the scientists
we’ll find a good home for it around here where the
elementary school kids and anybody else who wants can handle
it. Hey, we live in an interesting place and you just never
know what you might find.
Nobody actually comprehends geologic time and pretending it’s
possible is just comic hubris. What we can grasp more intuitively
though, is what that fossil really is: the transformation
of sunlight through the primal mystery of photosynthesis from
some ancient swamp, both somehow morphed together into stone,
eons before the dinosaurs. If you doubt that the earth beneath
us is really alive, I invite you to spend a few moments with
this stone stalk from the past one day.
Welcome to the season for the contemplation of the mystery
of time. No, we’re not offering up answers, just reminding
you that to every thing there is a season, this one’s
here again and well, Merry Christmas. It’s true that
the life of Christ is told as a history, a narrative. And
whether we celebrate the birth of the Christ as a theologically
unique event, a mythically symbolic one, both perhaps, or
not at all, it is regardless, our civilization’s most
compelling and enduring story. And the reason’s simple.
It’s because the theme of the incarnation is the transformation
of humanity into God, the awakening of the divine within us,
and the redemption of time itself from the unfathomably infinite
past and future. That’s why one doesn’t need to
be a believer as we usually use the term, to believe in Christmas.
It’s a story that transcends its own narrative.
Most of us have some degree of ambivalence toward our own
religious traditions; if there’s a time to try and make
peace with that it’s probably now. We encourage people
to seek out the fellowship of shared belief, whatever setting
that may take. We encourage people as well to respect, genuinely,
the fellowship and beliefs of those who see the world differently.
That’s not so much an issue for us here as it is for
our nation as a whole, where “moral values” are
increasingly code words for intolerance, and many are looking
to the courts and our legislatures to move public policy into
line with their personal theology. These are grim prospects
for our republic, but ones likely to play out nonetheless.
We’ll save talk of politics though, for another time.
We’ve all figured out time is our most precious commodity,
it’s the post-paleolithic curse. Few of us have much
to spare and many, none at all. The tough part to come to
grips with though is that what we’ve got is just about
all there is, and the best we can do is spend it like every
moment matters, because it sure seems to.
2004’s been another interesting year in Shandaken, and
we’ve enjoyed keeping you posted on what’s happening.
Thanks as always for your letters and feedback…you always
know where to find us, and we’re always happy to hear
Warmest wishes for a wonderful Christmas & New Years,
Brian, Paul and everyone at The Phoenicia Times