Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A deplorable lack of restraint

In deference to lack of popular demand I restrained from writing about Saint Phocas the Gardener yesterday. But restraint has not prevailed.
And while my heart sinks as I contemplate the mendacious belligerence of the McCain/ Palin team and sinks further as I contemplate the US government bailing out (sans caveats or safeguards, God forfend!) corporate malfeasance, misgovernance and just plain greed, I can’t help but cling to the story of Saint Phocas the Gardener.

He lived just outside the gates of Sinope, in what is now northern Turkey, on the southern shores of the Black Sea. As Butler points out, Adam and Eve were the last gardeners to enjoy the fruits of the earth without labor. “Since their sin, the earth yields not its fruit but by the sweat of our brow. But still, no labor is more useful or necessary or more natural to man, and better adapted to maintain in him vigor of mind and health of body, than that of tillage; nor does any part of the universe rival the charms which a garden presents to our senses, by the fragrance of its flowers and the sweetness and variety of its fruits….” To which I might add: by the sweet honey and the meditative buzz of the honeybee.

Such was the happy life of Phocas, cultivating his garden, those many hundreds of years before Candide expressed it so well. But Phocas was denounced as a Christian and so one fine day two soldiers came to Sinope to execute him. Arriving too late to enter the town they stopped at the house by the gates, Phocas’s house. They told him their errand & asked where they might find this Phocas. Their host said he would find out and let them know in the morning.

That night, while the soldiers slept, Phocas went into his garden and dug his own grave, careful not to disrupt the roots of his many perfectly pruned fruit trees. In the morning he announced to the soldier that he was the very man they sought, showed them the ready grave, and declared that he was more than happy to be dispatched to a better world.
They were initially disconcerted by his composure, but soon recovered their deadly resolve, and chopped off his head. That is the story of Saint Phocas the Gardener, whose relics can be found in Antioch, Vienne, France and many other places. Don’t ask how they got there.

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