25 Slices
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Willy Becker and the South Church

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

WILLY BECKER AND THE SOUTH CHURCH

The name of Little Willy Becker’s village, Adair, Saskatchewan, may seem kind of funny at first when you think how many Mennonites live here. You would have expected, maybe, something like Blumenheim or Schnetjedarp. But those villages are all quite far away, twenty or thirty miles, places Willy has only heard about here in Adair where he lives.

You are probably wondering why is the village called Adair, and not one of those other names that, as I say, maybe you expected? Well, Pete Hamm he explained it to me once, the Pete Hamm that works in the Village Office and goes to the North Church. He said Adair was the back name of a certain politician who was quite famous at one time when this part of the country was still the Northwest Territories. Pete couldn’t remember the front name, but this Mr. Adair had done some quite important things. It’s just escaped me now what they were, or maybe Pete never got around to telling me, but as I say, they were such important things that Adair got a village named after him, and this is that village, with more than three hundred people, where Willy Becker has lived all his eleven years.

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Prologue: Being Here

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

PROLOGUE

BEING HERE

Oscar Wilde once said that if faced with a choice between going to heaven or going to a lecture about heaven, most people would go to the lecture. We seem to be suspicious of a paradise in a far-off time and never-never land — some professing to believe it, some wishing to believe it, others believing it’s unbelievable. How different all this is from Thomas Traherne’s experience: “Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in God’s palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys; having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels.”

Love and work: these were Freud’s criteria of a successful life, the reasons for staying on this planet at all. Yet both can be degraded from opportunity to opportunism, and both can come to feel like joyless obligations. Are compassion and creativity better terms? Are we here to experience common passion, and to make something of the experience? It’s one way of phrasing the spiritual quest.

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The Barrier of the Patriarchs

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE BARRIER OF THE PATRIARCHS

A friend drove into the country one day to inspect a test plot for the Canada Research Council. On many previous trips he had passed a turkey farm, and for once his curiosity got the better of him. Hundreds of cages stood there, each containing a bird; but one door hung from a broken hinge, and a turkey stood on the threshold, diminutive head peering into the world, body bulking safe in the cage till Thanksgiving. Darryl called it a Far Side cartoon.

The Zen master Mumon once gave the following talk to his students. You must pass through the barrier of the patriarchs, he said. To do this, you will have to work through every bone in your body and every pore in your skin. It will feel as if you have a hot iron ball stuck in your throat — you can’t swallow it and you can’t spit it out. Then your previous ideas will disappear; your subjectivity and your objectivity will become one. You will be crushed to death, but you will shake the heaven and move the earth. You will become like a great warrior with a sharp sword: if a Buddha stands in your way, you cut him down, if a patriarch blocks you, you kill him. Then any world you enter, you enter as if it were your playground.

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The Why and the Wherefore

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE WHY AND THE WHEREFORE

Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the forest . . . and thought about things.Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” — and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about. — A. A. Milne

Cindy is an eighteen-year-old student of Larraine’s who is inclined to deal with everything in her world by one comprehensive explanation: “That’s why because.” Some people call her mentally disadvantaged. Larraine co-ordinates her educational program, and living with Larraine entitles me to a debriefing at the end of every working day where she needs to tell, and I need to hear, stories about annoyingly innocent people.

“I’m going home on the bus today, that’s why because,” Cindy says.

“I got new shoes yesterday, that’s why because.”

Things are as they are, because they are.

She is closer to the truth, probably, than we are. For explanation lies on us like a disease in which we forfeit our sense of wonder — the curiosity that drives the best kinds of science, and the humility which is close kin to worship. “How marvellous this is!” said an old Zen saint; “I chop wood, I draw water.” One day when my daughter Sheri was five, colouring a picture, she said, “No wonder you like green!” “Why is that?” I asked, and she said, “Because it has such a nice colour.”

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The Bush on the Grave

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub

THE BUSH ON THE GRAVE

In the pioneer cemetery beside Diefenbaker Park near my home in Saskatoon, there is a grave on which a chokecherry bush is growing, hanging heavily some autumns with ripe black fruit. Vandals often desecrate other graves in that place, but as far as I know, they’ve never damaged this one. Beside the South Saskatchewan River, in the middle of a patch of prairie, in the centre of a grave, the bush stands over the remains of a little boy named Vernon Leo Kuhn, who lived in this world for six months in 1902 and 1903. It’s the only bush of its kind in the cemetery. I have often thought that, if it were done respectfully, those dangling clusters of cherries could be made into a unique wine. But no one ever seems to pick them; perhaps people are too superstitious to do it, or perhaps some fluke of nature allows them to ripen there until a person such as I comes along, ripe himself for the kind of experience which befell me there one afternoon of the first of September.

I don’t say I would have felt free to pick those chokecherries if I had intended simply to make a drinking wine. For wine and its related spirits have sometimes caused me more trouble than they were worth; but when I set out for the cemetery with a plastic pail in the late afternoon sun, I pondered the untidy leave I had taken of my family’s Christian fundamentalism — affirming the leave-taking, but regretting the pain — and hoped for a sacramental wine to come of my day’s endeavour.

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