I hadn't known squirrels could make so much noise. One trapped the other on the highest, most extended branch of the tree, and held him there with loud warnings, periodically lunging at his ribs. The branch bent, quivered. The top of the tree stands lower than the aged oaks surrounding it, but it is high enough that a fall could kill.
At a school board meeting tuesday night, discussion turned heated. The school board and the administration stand on opposing sides of a financial question. At one point, an important finanical donor stood up. "I'm not going to let you use my money for blackmail!" He said. The next day one of the teachers shouted in the face of a parent who tried to broach the subject with her.
This week, a lengthy discussion on a religious web-site got heated, too.
"You are afraid to stand up for GOD and you will regret it," wrote Anonymous. "God will not put up with this kind of behavior from people like you..."
Someone else wrote, "When you stand before GOD he will make [the issue] quite clear. Good luck!"
Still another had this to say: "You will find out the hard way...And he will cast all of you into the lake of fire for your actions."
The other side didn't possess much more luck or skill in the game of kindness, in spite of their stand on the side of love and tolerance.
"God will punish you more than other people" said one.
"Who the hell are you to judge like that?" said another.
And then, the most ironic statement in the whole dialogue, "I love God with all my heart and my soul and I love my neighbor as myself, and I have nothing but hatred for you christians who think YOU are better than I am".
When Thomas Merton visited Alaska, in the last year of his life, he talked about peace.
"It is terribly important that everything we do should be done in a ground of peace within us, rather than in a ground of contention. So much that goes on in Church renewal tends to develop in an atmosphere of conflict where people are too keyed-up about what is right and what is wrong and are trying to prove that they are right and somebody else is wrong. This is not God's way. Naturally this conflict is bound to arise once in a while, but we must always have this deeper ground of peace and confidence and trust..."
I stood in one place as the squirrel drama unfolded. I saw that the underdog was not going to get on top again and would soon fall to his death. I spent what seemed a very long time captivated, in something like fascination or interest. I was watching a key turn in a door and I wanted to see what was behind it. Each time the victim's fall seemed imminent, one or another of the squirrels watching from the ground moved forward or backward, chattering. I expected to witness death at every moment; I dreaded it, I feared it - and all of a sudden I realized that I could stop it.
We are beginning the Lenten season of the Christian church, which I have chiefly understood as a time of repentence and renewal. It is a time to uncover in ourselves the arrogance and hatred which led to the greatest act of violence in the history of the human race: the putting to death of our very Creator. It is a time to reconcile ourselves to God and to one another. A time to put right what we can and fall on the grace of God for what we can not.
"Our Lord came to overcome death by love, and this work of love was a work of obedience to the Father unto death- a total gift of Himself in order to overcome death."Says Merton.
"That is our job. We are fighting death, and we are involved in a struggle between love and death, and this struggle takes place in us...The work of creating community in and by the grace of Christ is the place where this struggle goes on and where He manifests His victory over death."
I moved toward the squirrels slowly at first, clicking my tongue. Then I moved faster and with greater noise. The pursuer backed down the tree and scrambled up a larger one. I waited, then stared, dumbfounded, as the squirrel whose lease on life I had just renewed exited the tree of death and scurried up the other one, pursuing his enemy. I had not stopped death; I had only delayed it.
The next day school started two hours late because of an ice storm. Micah and I were playing a card game on one side of the house when I heard angry voices on the other side.
"What IDIOT broke this?"
I arrived on the scene to find Marshall assaulting Eliot with words and a level of anger disproportionate to the offense. And it wasn't Eliot's offense. Marshall had left out a toy, and I had stepped on it the night before.
I didn't know I was angry until I opened my mouth. "Go to your room NOW!" I shouted in his face.
Listen to Thomas Merton, again:
"Never has the world been so violent and in many respects so insane, and so given to pressure and agitation and conflict. Although men have made brilliant technological advances, they cannot handle them or use them for good... In such a society there have to be specialists in inner peace and love."
"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord...
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Lord, have mercy on us all.