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“Blackberry Picking”: St. Francis would love it


Continuing our series Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples, full-time volunteer Michael Carlson writes about his experience reading Seamus Heaney’s poetry with St. Francis in mind.

Reading Annemarie’s writings this week about the Eucharist and creation (another post is coming tomorrow!) reminded me of one of my favorite poets, Seamus Heaney.

Every time I read Heaney’s poem “Blackberry Picking”, his vision of creation’s intense sensuality haunts me.

I grew up in the country but have spent my adult life in six different major cities. My childhood was idyllic in many ways, especially my exposure to nature, including blackberry picking, and a belief in the inherent goodness of creation.

I’ve spent my adult life, on the other hand, trying through my experiences of diverse ministries to actively address commonplace symptoms of urban ills: neglected abused children, spiritual apathy, neglect of mentally ill, housing for political refugees, and treatment of prison inmates. To my detriment, it’s been awhile since I picked blackberries.

Where does the Eucharist fit into this? It is both a feast and a sacrifice. I think of the Eucharist when I read “Blackberry Picking” because I think the Eucharist is also both a joy and a lament.

To believe that God is so in love with creation that God literally enters our world in the form of bread for the sole sake of feeding us is to truly believe in a love supreme.

“You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet”

We can find God’s love, if we look, in the blackberries of the world, the moments of goodness, and that is how we are stained, pricked, and nourished. Ministry of presence means getting your hands dirty and loving it.

But in the second half of “Blackberry Picking”, the plucked berries spoil. For me, Original Sin basically is admitting the simple reality of the Ego: we are not perfect. It is admitting that we need healing, we need the Eucharist. The Easter liturgy might call it felix culpa or “happy fault”, but it is still a fault.

Reading Annemarie’s writing, I am filled with appreciation for my pastoral childhood. And a regret that care-for-profit so often trumps American society’s care-for-creation. Ego seems to be winning. It is easy to see the spoiled blackberries in our world.

But St. Francis of Assisi calls us to delight in the newly ripened berries. To savor creation as the divine image of God. The “sweet flesh” of God’s own redeeming blackberry, the Eucharist.

The Eucharist stains us with goodness. I’m grateful for every reminder.

Michael Carlson serves Franciscan Mission Service as a Domestic Lay Volunteer Communications Associate.

Michael Carlson hails from Illinois. A graduate of Loyola University Chicago, he has been a Lasallian Volunteer, high school English teacher, and a Jesuit novice. He served as a Communications Associate at FMS from 2013 to 2014 and is currently a master’s candidate in religion and literature at Yale Divinity School.