Just about the first thing I saw in the sand hills of North Carolina was the pinecones on the ground, and then I knew for sure I hadn't made a wrong turn. They're not the skimpy little ones we have in the northeast, but giant ones, heroic in size, and ancient-looking -- pinecones that the dinosaurs of North Carolina must also have admired.
I brought a bunch back to Mary Jones last year, and the kind folks down here mailed up a big box of dozens more. Mary set about turning them into beautiful things: she sliced some of them in layers, creating scores of rosettes for wreaths and swags. She left some of them alone and they were little trees. I sneaked a few out of the box and piled them in an old iron brazier that one of Q's ancestors brought back from the middle east, one of my low-impact gestures in the direction of decorating for Christmas. We all do what we can.
I've given one talk and will give two more today -- or is it three? We're considering what it might mean to have, as scripture puts it, "a new heaven and a new earth." What might happen after death. What it means that this world and everything in it must give way -- it must, of course: the new can't come until the old passes. You can't cling to what you have -- well, you can, of course, but it won't work. We don't get to keep anything. An exception will not be made in my case, or in yours.
But we don't just end it all because we know this, do we? We don't say to ourselves, Oh, well, who cares, then? It's all passing away. Let me just leave now. Leave early, so I don't have to feel the pain of it all, so I can hurry up and get to the new heaven. We don't do that. We want to stay as long as we can. We love it here.
And we don't disregard the larger beauty of this old earth, larger than ourselves, the earth's constant and miraculous ability to renew itself. Even now, people who didn't think much about being a part of the earth's renewal are beginning to realize that they are -- that they are either part of its renewal or complicit in its destruction. That believing in a reality beyond this one doesn't mean that the things that happen here don't matter. That the earth itself matters, ours to cherish until it passes away, ours to love and care for.
Life after death. Life beyond this life. The life of the world and the end of the world. A new heaven, and a new earth. A lot to contemplate in a one-weekend retreat. But then, we only make a beginning together. The real work is done in people's hearts. After I leave.