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Meeting Jeremiah at the fair. Fancy that!

by davesandel on July 27th, 2022

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

            (click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Meeting Jeremiah at the fair. Fancy that!

Jeremiah is losing his mind. And besides that, he verges on calling God “Mother.” Jeremiah’s eyes are red from weeping, and his cheeks are pink with anger.

Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth, a man of strife and contention to all the land! I neither borrow nor lend, yet all curse me. When I found your words I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart. Under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation.

Jeremiah is one-of-a-kind. His prophecy and poetry are both tools in the hands of Yahweh, and they are destined to outlast anything else that he encounters there in Judah. God commands Ezekiel to “eat this book,” and to Ezekiel in God’s trance, the book tasted like honey. Jeremiah has forgotten to taste God’s sweetness.

Late in her Pulitzer-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard wonders what Teilhard wondered. Am I a physical being striving to be spiritual? Or maybe, just maybe, I am a spiritual being striving to be physical. She seems to be leaning toward the latter. Annie recalls her distant mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, struggling to reconcile his own body and spirit:

Emerson saw it. “I dreamed that I floated at will in the great Ether, and I saw this world floating also not far off, but diminished to the size of an apple. Then an angel took it in his hand and brought it to me and said, ‘This must thou eat.’ And I ate the world. All of it. All of it intricate, speckled, gnawed, fringed, and free.”

Thinking of these poets, prophets and philosophers, I spent a few hours at the Champaign County Fair, watching the heifer show, watching the beautiful curried cattle, huge in the hands of very young, very thin, very well-dressed cowgirls (and one cowboy). The girls’ hair was braided and mostly blond. They strode seriously into the raked dirt ring and put the heifers through their paces. The judge, also a female, stood quietly, stroking her chin. She walked around the cows. She put her hands in her pockets.

She pointed at one heifer, then another with one finger and then two, and finally three. She walked to the podium, turned on her microphone, and rendered judgment. Invariably I thought her words were empathic, kind, pointed and accurate. She knew her business.

I made a sandwich at home, brought it to the fair, ate it with a bottle of water, and started for the rest of the fair. On Senior Day, a gospel band played, Brian Barnhart the Voice of the Illini was speaking, and of course, I was waiting for Cullers’ French Fries to open their stand for the day.

But I barely got a hundred feet and stopped short. I opened my lawn chair and sat down again, under a spreading oak tree. Six ponies milled around inside a square corral erected around the tree. Two young redshirts filled their red feeding bowls. The horses were restless. They kicked their heels, they pushed each other around, they began feeling their oats. I had found the most beautiful spot in the fairgrounds. I looked up into the tree, watched the horses eat, and settled down for awhile.

Part of a petting zoo, I realized. The ponies’ saddles were stacked behind the corral, and a very low-roofed live carousel waited for the kids to come. A camel jumped into the air, bitten in the rump by a rambunctious goat. A very small, very cute mini-goat rode a rumbling tortoise around the barnyard.

I watched the rainclouds thicken and talked to one of the redshirts, just out of high school in Del Valle, a suburb of Austin. Fancy that; I’m headed back on Monday. His first time in Illinois, and headed with their boss and all those animals, this whole thing called “Noah’s Way,” to three more fairs in South Dakota. Maybe we’ll see them again in late March at Rodeo Austin. They plan to be there.

Jeremiah must not turn away from his Source. He depends on the words of Yahweh like the horses depend on their redshirts. God’s encouragement is like water and honey and wheat to his friend Jeremiah.

In my presence you shall stand, you shall be my mouthpiece. It shall be they who turn to you, and I will make you toward this people a solid wall of brass. Though they fight against you, they shall not prevail, for I am with you, I will deliver you and rescue you, says the Lord. I will free you from the hand of the wicked.

God’s promises matter. Jeremiah believed him. “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. As the raincloud collapsed onto the petting zoo’s strong tent, the goats stood their ground, and the tortoise too, and me. I stood strong too. I wasn’t going anywhere, except back to Texas on Monday, a bit sooner than these guys.

(Jeremiah 15, Psalm 59, John 15, Matthew 13)

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