Monday, September 27, 2010


Today about 30 white tents transform a puddly vacant lot into an art fair with live music. Hearing a bluesy version of "Proud Mary" from our house, we amble toward the tents in anticipation of a good time. And we do have a good time chatting with neighbors and artists and leafing through bins of matted photos of canyons and cardinals and watercolor castles and canals. Our favorite displays are oil paintings of bright, arched doorways flanked by radiant sunflowers and blue-shuttered windows bedecked with red geraniums. When all the tents are collapsed and carted away by vans that had surrounded the fair like covered wagons, all that remains of this vibrant scene is matted grass and several dozen decapitated mushrooms. Tomorrow, the art fair will be a memory. Ephemera ~ just like the art so lovingly created.

With the farmers market, it's the same. One moment, it's an event people come to from miles around. They come in cars vying for parking spots. They pull little red wagons toward white tents lining both sides of a city block. They clap to accordion music and laugh at face-painted, temporary-tattooed children hula-hooping. They tug the leashes of mutts lapping up spilt fresh-squeezed lemonade. They thump pumpkins and pinch eggplants. They half-husk cobs of corn to inspect the kernels and then line up to buy armloads of it. Farmers expound on July's heat and August's rains. Bakers tell of all the love they bake into their muffins and coffee cakes. The knife grinder warns to be careful with your newly sharpened scissors. The spice merchant explains when to use Greek oregano, as opposed to Mexican oregano, and what to cook with lavender. Five hours later, this buzz is silenced. The tents have vanished. Just one shopper remains with a bunch of orange zinnias in one hand and a bag of onions in the other, but when she finishes checking out the bookstore's window display, the sidewalk will once again be empty, save for some corn silks and smashed blueberries.

For centuries, soldiers have encamped near battlefields in tents. They cleaned their muskets in canvas lean-tos, they dressed their wounds there, wrote letters home, prayed there, waited there to fight. Today even airplane hangars in some military zones might be essentially tents. When the command comes to move, however, soldiers pack up all evidence and march on. Not even a dented tin cup is left behind.

In the early 1900s, big tents housed the Chautauqua circuit or the circus when they enlivened a town for a few days. Then the fabric big-tops folded, leaving only a song sheet fluttering against a hay bale, a cotton candy cone smeared with mud, and most likely a few forgotten piles of zebra poop. But that's all. No other signs of throngs or laughter or wide-eyed amazement.

On a summer Saturday night, we like awake, heads awkwardly dangling off the air mattress just to be able to gaze out the tent window up into the pines high above. Maybe we'll see the moon float or a bat dart between the branches. Our fellow campers still roast marshmallows over the smoldering campfire and hum along to a guitar's quiet strum. In the morning, bacon will sizzle, eggs scramble, and a rosy-cheeked someone will finish off the bag of Oreos from yesterday on his way to the water pump. Wet towels will be pulled off lines, tents and tarps folded and rolled, car trunks stuffed. And off we will go ~ heading home, leaving only ashes in the fire pit to show we enjoyed our camping weekend.

Tents signify temporary shelter during a special event. Since our everyday shelters are often brick or wood or stone or stucco, we may be fooled into thinking our lives are more permanent than art-fair or big-top tents. On our timetable, most of us do live longer than a weekend. But on God's eternity-timetable, we are no more permanent than a flower ~ or a tent ~ in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8) And because our lives do pass quickly, why not engage with life as if it were the special event it is? It isn't the stodgy stone structure we leave occasionally to face challenges and enjoy artistic and natural beauty. It is the art fair; it is the farmers market, the campout, the battleground, the circus, the Chautauqua circuit.
Life is in the tent!


Charlotte said...

I agree! Beautifully written.

tandemingtroll said...

What a great reminder that we are not really home yet and that the buildings that we think are so permanent are no more solid than tents to God ;-).