As many of you know, I am a former Catholic–or rather a lapsed Catholic, since few people ever succeed in ridding themselves completely of Holy Mother Church\’s hold on their psyches. I ceased practicing in my twenties, since I couldn\’t go along with the Church\’s position on birth control and had been taught that a cafeteria-style Catholicism was worse than no Catholicism at all. But I can still chant the Credo in latin, and will do so at the drop of a hat.
The imprint goes much deeper than Gregorian chant and the smell of beeswax candles, however. It is my suppressed Catholicism, for instance, that is responsible for my tendency to imbue everyday happenings with a religious significance. Take, for instance, this early spring, which has caused maple sugaring to begin a full three weeks ahead of schedule.
I know many people who glory in this sort of weather, who are grateful to be able to get outdoors and start raking the hay mulch off the flower beds–a task that in normal years they couldn\’t even begin to think about until April. I, on the other hand, view this warmth with deep suspicion. For one thing, we don\’t deserve it. We don\’t deserve it because we haven\’t earned it by three good months of snow-shoveling, fire-stoking, and long-underwear-wearing. There have been no blizzards, no cabin fever, and thus none of that bursting out of doors on the first day the thermometer hits 32F to fling spinach seeds on the still snow-covered garden. The prizes that aren\’t sacrificed and waited for are hardly worth the winning. It is by our sufferings in this vale of tears that we earn eternal life, no?
Furthermore, I think this early spring is the first stage of something we have earned: a severe punishment, in the form of global warming, for our sins against the earth. Hildegard of Bingen knew what she was talking about, back in the 12th century, when she said:
Now in the people that were meant to be green there is no more life of any kind. There is only shriveled barrenness. The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish goings-on. Thunderstorms menace. The air belches out the filthy uncleanliness of the peoples. The earth should not be injured! The earth must not be destroyed!
To distract myself from these dire thoughts, yesterday I pruned my two little apple trees. I was shocked, when I took off the first \”sucker,\” to see how much green there was under the bark. The sap had certainly been running, and I hoped I was not too late with my shears. But I finished the job anyway, sculpting the trees by cutting away the upright-growing branches and preserving the ones that came off the trunk at a wide angle, and snipping off the skinny little twigs that would get in the way of a thrown cat (if an apple tree has been properly pruned, you should be able to throw a cat through its branches).
And here again I found myself having Catholic thoughts–all this cutting and purifying and inflicting pain (I hope not much) in the hopes of a glorious future harvest reminded me of going to confession, where in exchange for the pain of telling your sins to a stranger you are left feeling cleansed and full of hope.
Speaking of which, as soon as it stops raining, I will plant my spinach, which mundane act will not fail to remind me that by doing my little bit to minimize the \”shriveled barrenness\” of the earth I will perhaps save my life, and possibly even my soul.