Gratitude: Creation and Patriotism

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column

"God called the dry land earth, and the basin of water he called sea.  God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:10)

The line was cast into dark waters beneath quietly fading stars.  The sky’s faint glow, like a prophecy, foreshadowed dawn.  The shrimp bait plopped near a small, brackish inlet of the grassy marsh. A redfish took it upon impact, as if he knew it was coming.  Tug and pull, tug and pull, tug and pull, back and forth until the sheening fish, with a black spot on its tail, was scooped by a net.  Into the ice chest.  After pulling in a few more, we boated through marshy Little Lake, which was born into an orange and yellow brilliance emanating from the eastern frontier of the sky-dome, refracting through misty clouds over the Gulf.  Sunrise!

“Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the seasons, the days and the years, and serve as lights in the dome of the sky, to illuminate the earth. And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night, and the stars.   God set them in the dome of the sky, to illuminate the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good.  Evening came, and morning followed—the fourth day.”  (Genesis 1:14-19)

As we passed through a channel into Terrebonne Bay, a school of fish launched from the water, like flying medallions set off by sunbeams from the east.  Out came the Old Milwaukee and sandwiches.  Our second breakfast.

“Then God said: Let the water teem with anabundance of living creatures, and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky.  God created the great sea monsters and all kinds of crawling living creatures with which the water teems, and all kinds of winged birds.  God saw that it was good, and God blessed them, saying: Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth.  Evening came, and morning followed—the fifth day”  (Genesis 1:20-23).  As for the beer:  “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone…’” (Matthew 4:4).

The morning began at 3:30 am with an 80-mile ride south to a boat launch in a town called Leeville.  Before taking to water, we had a pre-sunrise breakfast at Rose’s Café in Galliano, packed with sportsmen and blended smells of dark coffee, bacon and cigarette smoke (that was before tobacco was dangerous).  If that was the only reason for a 3:30 am rise-n-shine, it was worth it.   After breakfast, we pulled up to a plywood hut labeled “BAIT” and bought shrimp, cash-only.  It was none of Uncle Sam’s business.  Off to the boat launch at Boudreaux’s Motel and into the channels and bayous meandering through marshy prairies.  We boated into the void.   You had to know the territory.

“And the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  Otherwise, Rose’s Café opens at 5:00AM, Monday-Saturday.

As a priest, I tug and pull (so to speak) upon grace and nature to purify hearts and turn bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.  You might say that tugging and pulling upon redfish, sheepheads, speckled trout and flounder was my primeval priestcraft.  Local farmers, too, had their own rites.  They meditated upon the earth and brought forth the marvels of vegetable matter, as a priest meditates on Christ’s Words of Institution over bread and wine – "Take this all of you and eat of it…” – and brings forth the Bread of Life.  In one sense, to be human is to be priestly, meditating upon the blessings of grace and nature and mediating gifts from grace to nature.  This gives us humans – earth spirits, or gods with bodies – affection for the waters and lands from which we draw life, culture and language.  God supplies grace and intelligence to humans in order to bring about a New Creation.   

“So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.”  (Genesis 2:19)

From this, we get love of country.  It’s neither a principle nor an ideal.  It’s an experience – an affection – that begets gratitude for what God has given.   Because of gratitude, the affection we call “love of country” becomes a vine that grows far and wide.  To love one’s country is to love every country.   If we can love the one who is nigh – our neighbor – then we’ve been prepared to love the one who is far.  This kind of love is not found among animals.  It’s the noble privilege of the one creature made of body and soul:  the human.  

“But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2: 6-7)

"Human” means “of the earth.”  We’re all humus with a soul, a rooted species.   To love earth is to feel human, which is the birth of patriotism.  Patriotism, in turn, is the seedbed of universalism.   Anyone who truly loves his country is bound to love every country.   Anyone who authentically loves his race or culture is bound to love every race and culture.  Racism, on the other hand, is self-hatred disguised as hating someone else.  Arrogance masks a void of identity.  On the other hand, the lover gets it.  He relates to all love deeply rooted.  Innocence and joy make this easy to experience.   The “human” meditates and mediates – and thereby transforms – the earth into something magnificently new, life-giving and joy-giving.  There’s satisfaction in catching something, finding something, growing something and transforming something into something else – and then sharing it with someone else who’s grateful to receive it.   Tradition is born.

Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.  God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:26-27)

Because man is a rooted species, he’s an inherently traditional species. Without Tradition, a human has no point of reference, like an amnesiac.  This doesn’t mean he’s frozen in a time.  It means he’s part of dynamic process of giving and receiving.   As for the humus of being human, every parcel of land and every body of water is a universe unto itself, geologically and biologically, from which man’s creativity and genius can bring forth gifts to others.  But it takes generations – Tradition – to know a land and its water.  Tradition is love in action.  Tradition is the treasury from which gifts are given to another generation.  But Tradition isn’t just about giving.  It’s also about receiving.  The giver must be a generous lover.  But the receiver must be a grateful lover.  This is basis of patriotism (and, by the way, of Catholicism).   No individual or society stands above this fact.  

Love of country cannot be passed on by noble ideals, fear of enemies or a need for security.   It’s authentically passed on by a sense of affection for the land, the peoples and the cultures that inhabit it.  It hates no one.  And it’s not intimidated by newcomers.  In fact, it welcomes newcomers as contributors to an evolving social tapestry.  And yet, newcomers must respect the traditions – the tapestry – into which they weave themselves.  It comes down to this: neighborliness.  Neighborliness grows and evolves Tradition, organically.  It’s the leaven of Christ’s second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 12:31).

“We have an ancient and long-enduring cultural imperative of neighborly love and work…If we are to continue, in our only world, with any hope of thriving in it, we will have to expect neighborly behavior of sciences, of industries, and of governments, just as we expect it of our citizens in their neighborhoods.”  (Wendell Berry)

“Always give thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”   (Ephesians 5:20)

Happy Fourth of July! May God bless our beautiful country.  May God bless every country.   And may we be grateful for what we have received.