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Living and dying in the dark grass fields

by davesandel on August 26th, 2021

Thursday, August 26, 2021                            (today’s lectionary)

Living and dying in the dark grass fields

Jesus said to us, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake.”

I think more often of going home to Jesus, than of Jesus coming back for me. Is that normal? I suppose so. And even Jesus infers a dark, deathly thief coming without warning. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus on the clouds, the Jesus who brings joy and judgment to his friends. Yes, I think more about dying than about eternal life.

A wicked servant says, “My master is long delayed” and then eats and drinks with drunkards. When his master returns he will assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be much wailing and grinding of teeth.

Walter Wangerin, eight years old and eyes closed at his father’s Lutheran church during the Lenten services in frozen North Dakota, “saw only teeth.” Jesus sees them too. I see them now, forced into the same nightmare by Jesus’ words.

Can I not be happy here AND happy there? How do I prepare for my life in heaven, rather than dreading the end of my life on earth? Release me from my frozen, toothy guilt, O Lord. You say to us, be still and know that I am God. NOW, not just then. But …

You turn men back to dust, O Lord. A thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep us away in the sleep of death, we are like the new grass of the morning: in the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.

Of the sirens, T. S. Eliot says, “I have seen them riding seaward on the waves combing the white hair of the waves blown back, when the wind blows the water white and black.” Is that what you want me looking for? Standing with the poet on his lonely shore, “I do not think that they will sing to me.”

Don’t I need to get over that, and trust that your calling song will reach my ears when the time is right?

My brother John is/was a cattleman. And my father too, Roland Sandel was a quiet cowboy all his life. A smile was rarely far from his lips, although he could get pretty upset with those stubborn cows at times. His Holstein dairy herd won awards for their milk production, month after month. Later he and John raised Charolais cattle, a French breed shipped to Missouri, some of them, with their bull, finally settling on the pastures near Harmony Cemetery in Logan County, Illinois.

John would like to be buried in the Harmony Cemetery, out near the grasslands where the cattle roamed. Dad too is buried not far from there, near his birthplace in Mt. Pulaski.

“The notion that all flesh is grass,” wrote Larry McMurtry about cowboys in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, “is one that would please all cattlemen, including my father.” He writes on:

They accept, at a profound level, the cycle of nature in which men and animals alike are born, grow old, and die, to be succeeded by others. Recycling of this natural sort does not bother men who live on the land; some even resent the fact that modern burial practices retard the process. The notion that they will soon again become part of the food chain doesn’t bother them at all.

Upon reading this in silence, I am comforted with my own quiet peace. The time and place of my recycling need not be set, but even, I think, the cells of my physical body will at that time rejoice. “The creation waits in eager expectation,” and so do I.

Dad’s hands became somewhat broken over the years. He lost a finger in a feed grinder one morning. Mom rushed him to the hospital, and I looked around, frantic, for the finger. At last there it was, dry and coated with the dust of ugly, toothy corn. I picked it up, ran to the kitchen and called. Someone came quick and took it to the surgery, and they sewed it back on.

But it didn’t take. He lived without that finger for thirty-five years. Dad’s degree in accounting kept his hands busy with numbers and projections, his taxes and those of his farmer friends, during all those years. When I shook his hand, it was rough, strong, and just felt funny, without that finger.

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.

I wonder … thinking of the coffins in the ground … how Dad’s body is doing, and Margaret’s dad’s too. Edward McLeod also cared for cows. Are they doing their part, turning back to grass?

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us, yes, establish the work of our hands.

(1 Thessalonians 3, Psalm 90, Matthew 24)

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