Soon it will be blackberry time at our house. No, not the electronic device -- the real blackberry, as in fruit. For months the berries have been ripening in a patch just north of our house, slowing maturing from flower to fruit. Any day now my husband, Bob, will descend into the briar patch to begin laboriously harvesting the black jewels hanging amid the leaves. My job is to put up dozens of jars of jam, which soon will fill our kitchen counter, each filled with the deep, purply-red essence of summer.
Some people (at our house we privately call them Philistines) don’t like our blackberry jam very much, as it has seeds and isn’t as sweet as a commercial jam. Other people remain friends with us, I think, solely to have a steady pipeline of it. Our jam’s fans occasionally accuse us of putting cocaine in the recipe, but that is just a rumor.
I think its secret is that it contains more than just blackberries. When I eat it, I can taste the hard work of Bob and the heat of the sun ripening the fruit on a midsummer day. There’s a soupçon of dog in it as well, from our border collie swinging his tail in the blackberry bushes as he runs by. And a bit of boy, too, from the hands that steal berries from the bowl as they sit on the kitchen counter waiting to be made into jam.
Most of all, I think this blackberry jam contains a reminder of the abundance and sweetness of God's creation. Maybe we need that reminder this summer more than usual, during this year of earthquakes, fires, tornados and floods. Some of these disasters are exacerbated by human folly, of course, from nuclear meltdowns to climate change. But there’s no denying as well the destructive, fearsome power of the natural world, which tosses houses like Tinkertoys and splits bedrock as if it were kindling.
But if we are to put God on trial for such excesses, let me play defense attorney by submitting another piece of evidence: the humble blackberry.
The patch near our home grew from a few wild berry bushes transplanted long ago by a former owner of our house. Each year it grows larger, colonizing new parts of the lawn as it sends out new canes. With no fertilizer, no watering and no fussing, by late July the branches are heavy with ripening fruit that feeds the neighborhood birds and children as well as our family and friends.
Some of the berries are too tart, frankly, even for a blackberry lover like myself. But every tenth berry or so is so exquisitely sweet, so dense with flavor, that one bite is the equivalent of standing in front of the Mona Lisa. When one experiences such a masterpiece, one can only marvel.
I sometimes wonder why my husband and I labor so over that blackberry jam, why we don’t just enjoy the fresh berries and let the rest go to seed or to feed the birds. We wouldn’t need to put them up into jam, for our supermarket, of course, stocks a range of varieties both familiar and exotic. Part of it, I think, is that in making jam we become co-creators with the divine. If God went to the trouble to create such an abundance of fruit, surely we have an obligation to participate in the creative project. To do anything less would be disrespectful to the giver.
By the end of the season we will have more than fifty jars of this elixir, enough to give loved ones and slather it liberally on pancakes and toast for months. Like manna from heaven, there always seems to be just enough to last until the next year’s harvest, proof positive of the goodness of a benevolent creator.
-- Lori Erickson writes about inner and outer journeys at www.spiritualtravels.info. She serves as a deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Iowa City, Iowa.