Jeb’s Lesson Plan

Every day, come hail or high water, Jeb the Dog takes me for a walk along Minnehaha Creek. Jeb is especially excited these days because record high water pushes the creek far beyond its banks. Need it be said that neighbors who feverishly tend sump pumps are not nearly as enthusiastic?

The high water enables Jeb to more easily greet Mama Mallard and her five ducklings. It gives him an edge in tormenting Mr. Snapping Turtle. Watching Jeb’s sheer exuberance and feverish freedom makes me wonder if our wonder-dog faithfully takes me to the creek to remind me of a basic truth:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Jeb’s been with us for almost three years now. He patiently but persistently labors to share with us many truths, adapting his lesson plan with the agility of a master teacher. His core message remains tediously consistent: We urgently need to acquire a new way of looking at ourselves, at the created world, and at God!

The environmental cliff on which we teeter suggests that our head-in-the-sand addiction to immediate gratification is not primarily economic (e.g., portfolio profits), political (e.g., re-election) or technical (e.g., “clean” energy) but spiritual. Jeb might say we are in need of a more fundamental transformation, conversion, metanoia, change-of-heart.

Just before our walk to the creek yesterday I was reading something by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He laments that we no longer see the world as gift of God or sacrament of divine presence. We no longer have Wendell Berry’s eyes or heart, becoming day-blind to the grace of the world.  We have become pretty hard-core secularists.

Record flooding on the creek tempts me to despair. At times I fear for our lives and what our children’s lives may be. Perhaps wood drakes, great herons and snapping turtles will do what patriarchs and poets apparently cannot.

Jeb, I need another walk!
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

Encountering the Mystery: Understanding Orthodox Christianity Today by Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Doubleday. 2008. pp. xviii-xix.

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