My favorite thing about the strawberry is its voice.
Here in New Brunswick, the rapidly-passing month of June has been doing its work of wilting the school year and ripening the strawberries. Our province is better known for its potatoes, but I would argue that our berries are second to none. There is cutthroat competition to get to the u-picks on good picking days. The early birds on their way for a worm are beaten to the patch by pickers eager to get their share.
Strawberries can become many wonderful things. I enjoy strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam, and strawberry shortcake. But I maintain that none of these compare to the faultless berry unembellished. Strawberries are delicious with cream but you will not convince me that the fruit itself has been improved.
Stafford Whiteaker has some wise words in The Compleat Strawberry. He says that in “our long tradition of not leaving well enough alone we have managed to contrive a great many recipes for the strawberry.” Some things are best when they are least adorned.
There is much to love about the strawberry but my favorite part is its voice. Among the wonders of the berry is that it can speak. Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake remind us that the “Christian doctrine of general revelation teaches us that the purpose of things in this world is to speak, and that we were made to listen, so we should not be surprised if all the best pleasures come from paying attention” (from Art & Music: A Student’s Guide). The best pleasures come from paying attention. For practice, let us take a few minutes to appreciate the strawberry.
Consider the Strawberry…
Consider the understated grandeur of a strawberry. It is hard to place blame for biting such an enticing morsel too soon but we rob ourselves by rushing to eat. A perfectly ripe strawberry, red to the green stem, is a thing of beauty. The color is perfection. It looks exactly the way the berry tastes. This is the red to which all other reds aspire. Strawberry-red is the ruling and royal hue holding sway over a host of ruddy subjects. It is deep enough to put all shades of lipstick to shame and bright enough to leave every box of crayons jealous.
The aroma manages to be both strong and subtle. The smell of cut strawberries is unmistakable but not at all overwhelming. It is inviting. The fragrance is like hearing the first eight notes of Beethoven’s Für Elise played and left hanging.
The surface dimples where the skin bulges out around the seeds. Sun, soil, and water plump the berry. Pressure swells from inside the ripening fruit and the seeds seem to cling to the outside of the berry by some mysterious grip. We should find it surprising that these succulent little capsules do not burst like over-inflated balloons. Strawberries are relatively small, but they do not need to be bigger. Even the smallest bite can be savored. Every segment and scrap is a delight.
To eat a good strawberry is to find nothing wanting except the next bite and the next berry. Juicy and firm, the flavor is exactly as it should be. It tastes like swelling sunshine and sweet waters. It is a spectacle of human foolishness that anyone thinks to add sugar to strawberries. He who has found a ripe strawberry has found a good thing.
Now consider how unnecessary strawberries are. There was no law outside of God as he created this world so there was no necessity that these exultant red berries should exist. A strawberry is a gratuitous thing. They exist unwarranted and unnecessary.
Perhaps you would say that creatures need the vitamin C and manganese that they provide? Remember that these essentials did not need to come packaged as heart shaped receptacles of delicious. Perhaps you would say that strawberries are a necessary part of the balance of certain ecosystems? Consider that those systems were then created with a need to be filled with such wonders in the first place. God, starting from scratch, could just as well have balanced the system with something gloomy. He could have provided the manganese through something dull. Instead, he made strawberries.
Who is God?
The other night we were working with the New City Catechism with our kids. Question Two with its answer in the children’s version is as follows:
What is God? God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything.
We noticed how this is a big question that is given what seems like a small answer. When we all tried to answer the question on our own we had a lot more than this to say. Is it enough to say that God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything? The catechism need not bear the burden of saying everything any time it tries to say anything. But this still seemed bare.
But think of it like this: when I say that God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything, I am necessarily saying that God is the creator and sustainer of strawberries. What does that fact suggest about him?
What sort of being could and would create the strawberry? To create at all this being would need to be quite above us. Our chemically created, sickly so-called strawberry flavored products are more aberration than accomplishment. And we are not creating so much as combining what we find already at hand. The creator and sustainer of the strawberry is not like us.
The creator and sustainer of the strawberry would also need to be exceedingly wise. The system that takes a miniscule seed, drops it in the dirt, and then offhandedly feeds it through dirt, water, and sunshine is a marvel. I do not find it surprising to crack open an eggshell and have a single white and yolk fall sizzling into the pan. But this parched little seed transforms into an organism that responds to its environment. It creeps along replanting itself as it goes. Each plant produces dozens of berries and each berry then houses around two hundred more seeds! I can add dirt, water, and sunshine to many things without such grand results.
The creator and sustainer of the strawberry would need to be especially good. Every time I eat a strawberry, I capitalize on a good idea that someone else had. There was no model berry for God to work from in the beginning. For that matter, there was no ideal of juicy, delicious, or red to work from. Everything lovely about the strawberry is something that its creator and sustainer came up with from scratch. Such a being with such ideas must be good. But note as well that we are the ones who get the berries. The maker of the strawberry is a being who is good to us.
So it is not such a bare statement to say that God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. That is, as long as when we say “everything” we are filling in the space with things like strawberries. If you find yourself a believer that God is the creator and sustainer of strawberries, then you find yourself a believer in a host of other doctrines. The strawberry is a witness to a being abounding with power, wisdom, and goodness.
What the Strawberry Told Me
The best pleasures come from paying attention and those who pay attention to the strawberry are not hearing an independent or isolated voice. Those who indulge in the pleasures of a strawberry are receiving what God has given. For those who have ears to hear, the strawberry has a lot to say about its creator and sustainer. God has not only given us strawberries, he has also given us a picture of himself in them. A simple, unadorned strawberry is a revelation of God. The right response to this is to sing a simple, unadorned song. Praise God from whom all blessings flow….