Tuesday, October 7, 2008

PLUCKING PERSIMMONS

My friend Vickie seems to always find trees that produce fruit, no matter what kind of terrain she explores – wild blackberry and blueberry bushes, cherry and kumquat trees. She grew up in central Florida where an orange grove flourished in the backyard; and avocado and mango trees grew abundantly in the front yard, so I don’t wonder at her present-day inclination to seek out trees that drop succulent fruit. During a walk yesterday afternoon near St. Mary’s Convent, she spied a persimmon tree. I kept trekking but she lingered to pick up a handful of the sweet fruit that had fallen and brought the harvest back for the table at St. Mary of Anselm’s cottage.

To Vickie, fresh fruit is like a foretaste of paradise. After Eucharist and breakfast with the Sisters this morning, she asked if anyone could make a persimmon pie, and everyone, including me, thought of some excuse to leave the kitchen, “naying” all the way. Nevertheless, this afternoon, we searched again for the luscious yield of the persimmon tree.

There’s something to be said for Vickie’s reverence for trees and plants, even though she sometimes has “to go to the garden alone,” to paraphrase an old Baptist hymn. Birds, flowers, trees – like St. Francis of Assisi, Vickie reveres the natural world and has no wish to dominate or exploit the Master Gardener’s realm…but she does want her share of delectable fruit. Her favorite Eucharistic Prayer is Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer: “At your command, all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their course, and this fragile earth, our island home…”

Evelyn Underhill tells us that Christian worship is always directed toward the sanctifying of the natural world. In her classic book, WORSHIP, she acknowledges our Jewish heritage, saying that “the great benedictions of the Synagogue services are jewels of liturgical art, expressing the grateful consciousness of the action and presence of God.” Underhill admires the Jewish benedictions that hallow and consecrate things with which blessings are connected – like trees that bear edible fruit! Vickie’s reverence for the natural world isn’t too far removed from the recognition of our creaturely need and dependence on the Ultimate Source. While here at St. Anselm’s, I read aloud to her a passage from THE SPIRITUAL CANTICLE by St. John of the Cross that resonated with her naturalist’s ear: “God passes through the thicket of the world, and wherever His glance falls He turns all things to beauty.”

On the afternoon walk, we retraced our steps along the gravel road leading away from the Convent and found the persimmon tree. We brought home 16 of these paradisiacal persimmons for the Sister’s table, anticipating a small pie, perhaps… Yet, we know that the good Sisters’ daily schedule doesn’t include baking persimmon pies for guests who’re supposed to be practicing austerity!
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