I’ve always been inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s timeless verse that celebrates the fingerprints of “the creator” in creation: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
The artistic beauty and symmetrical precision of nature points to a “grand designer.” A glorious morning sunrise is call to worship. A breathtaking sunset inspires wonder.
But I do have a bone to pick with Ms. Browning when it comes to picking blackberries. In my experience there is something sacred about that end of summer ritual. It is a holy endeavor. For me the process of berry picking is nothing less than a parable of life.
Because blackberries grow rampant in our neighborhood, gathering the wild fruit has become an after-dinner activity on our long summer nights. I pick the succulent purple treasure and my wife bakes them into a pie. This farm-to-table exercise in the middle of suburbia is an opportunity to “simply” get back to basics.
Returning to our ancestral roots (literally) is a reminder that our lives are linked to those who first lived here. It’s an invitation to remember that a life that matters demands decluttering and finding joy in what is simple. That value does not always have a price tag.
While reaching for those beautiful berries, I choose not to listen to the Mariners. I am content to enjoy the sounds of silence. The quiet of the early evening is a welcomed “interruption” in an otherwisenoisy day.
Being alone with nature provides the atmosphere to reboot my internal computer and sense God’s presence. A meaningful life demands we unplug and “play” (even if our definition of play was once considered work). What’s important is making time to be quiet and getting away from the crowd.
After years of harvesting wild blackberries, I’ve learned to recognize which ones are past their prime and which ones are pie-worthy. It’s also interesting to see how many are not quite ready. What is even more amazing to me is how many berries ripen within a twenty-four hour period. Often I’ll return to my favorite patch within a day or two of my last berry hunt and find a whole new crop from which to choose.
Sixty-seven (67) years of living have convinced me that patience is a virtue. What we long for can’t be achieved in the short term. Goals and dreams take time. Learning to wait is a key to success.
There is nothing quite like a warm slice of freshly baked blackberry pie. To this man of the cloth, what I’ve just described is heaven on a plate. But it didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It took effort and it took time. It also took a partnership. There would be nothing on my plate if my wife Wendy wasn’t willing to take what I’d gathered and complete the task.
In life (and in berry picking) that for which you are working is what keeps you going. And working together as a team is the ice cream on the pie. As my Swedish friends like to say, “A shared joy is a doubled joy.”
Greg Asimakoupoulos is the chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores retirement community.