“When Salt Has Lost its Taste” Mark W. Harris

October 24, 2010 – First Parish of Watertown

Call to Worship – from Mohandas K. Gandhi, Young India

Love is the subtlest force in the world . . . The force of love truly comes into play only when it meets with causes of hatred. True non-violence does not ignore or blind itself to causes of hatred, but in spite of the knowledge of their existence, operates upon the person setting those causes in motion . . . The law of non-violence – – returning good for evil, loving one’s neighbor – involves a knowledge of the blemishes of the “enemy.” Hence do the scriptures say . . . “Forgiveness is an attribute of the brave.” . . . Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing God.
Offertory – Recipient – Bikes not Bombs
Allie Hunter, Director of Grassroots Fundraising & Events Readings – Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Armenians, I read, salt their newborn babies. I check somewhere else; so did the Jews at the time of the prophets. They washed a baby in water, salted him, and wrapped him in cloths. When God promised to Aaron and all the Levites all the offerings Israel made to God, the first fruits and the firstling livestock, “all the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine,” he said of the promise, “It is a covenant of salt forever.” In the Roman church baptism, the priest places salt in the infant’s mouth.

I salt my breakfast eggs. All day long I feel created. I can see the blown dust on the skin on the back of my hand, the tiny trapezoids of chipped clay, moistened and breathed alive. There are some created sheep in the pasture below me, sheep set down here precisely, just touching their blue shadows hoof to hoof on the grass. Created gulls pock the air, rip great curved seams in the settled air: I greet my created meal, amazed.

Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. ; Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Spoken Reflection – “When Salt Has Lost its Taste” Mark W. Harris

The pathway begins with salt. Long ago, when I was little, I once was walking in the woods with my dog. He was a handsome Black lab whom I adored. We often walked on trails by stonewalls, paths of long forgotten roads that instead of leading somewhere as they once did, became roads to nowhere except deeper into the forest. The dog usually ran ahead acting as my scout. Suddenly he stopped, and went not to a cascading brook for a refreshing drink as you might expect, but to a rock, which he began to lick. He was after salt; wanted it, desired it, needed it, just like me with a chip or cracker or saltshaker over roasted vegetables or meat, any vehicle for salt. One of the earliest ways humans searched for salt was to follow animal trails, all of which led to salt licks or brine springs. And those animal trails became human trails.

Those human trails here in this place we call home had been traversed for as long as any Native American could remember. In 1631, one Indian named Wahginnacut came to Boston to see the governor in his new home. He told the governor of a fertile place by a great river, and offered to show it to an exploring party. He proposed eighty beaver skins in payment, but what he really wanted was protection. The governor refused. Yet the idea of expansion was planted in the governor’s mind, and eventually his son, would become the longest standing governor ever of the settlement that later became Connecticut. Later a man named John Oldham, who lived here in Watertown, took a journey into what became known as the Connecticut River valley to trade with the natives. As a trader, he knew the Bay Path well from Boston to Watertown and soon beyond. In his trip of 1633 he became the first to scout the highway of what would become the famous Boston Post Road. The future foundation of travel in our neck of the woods was howling wilderness to the Puritans. But to the natives it was a main street. On these old pathways, they performed bush burning as a way to pave. After the burning came new growth; more reasons for the animals to come and eat, thus providing food for the hunters, but also tamping down the paths even more. By 1634, Oldham had built a cabin in what became Wethersfield in that lush valley. Trade continued, expansion came, and along the highway of tomorrow, conflict came as well, even before the stagecoaches, the trains of industry, the automobile and the malls of today. Oldham went to represent Governor John Winthrop, Jr. at a conference between colonists and the Pequot tribe, where the natives were effectively told to surrender. Days later, Oldham was killed. Message delivered, and the Pequot War began.

One item that Oldham traded with the natives was fish. I spent endless hours during my boyhood fishing in streams and lakes waiting ever so patiently for the bite that would help me snare a trout or bullhead that I could take home to have my Dad fry up for supper. That long time coming was not the case in Oldham’s day. There was no waiting. Up to 100,000 fish could be netted in one day along the Charles. Natives had traditionally built weirs to catch the fish, and then the colonists did the same. Fish – used for fertilizer, laid out to dry and salted in barrels to preserve for eating tomorrow, for shipment to England. For hundred of years salt had been used as a preservative for fish and meat. It was well known that salt kept food from putrification, and since ancient times it had always been the primary way to keep food. Salt has a broad application to life, and we have given it a supreme metaphorical importance – it preserves life, its protects against decay, it sustains life. These are the things that bring longevity and permanence to a fleeting existence. Egyptians salted their mummies for eternal life. Newborns, as you heard, are salted with the hope of a long life, and to protect from evil. There is a covenant of salt the scriptures say that we must keep to preserve and uphold life. Animals, natives, Puritans – all on the same path, what could have been the covenant of connectedness for all, then broken. How do we restore and keep the creative salt of life present in us, and in our world?

There is an old French folk tale called “Without Salt.” It is the story of an aging king, who knows he must pass on his realm to his children. This aging monarch had three daughters to whom he wanted to bequeath his kingdom. The first daughter said she loved him more than the fine silk gowns she wore. Being pleased with this, he gave her 1/3 of his realm. A second daughter said she loved him more than diamond bracelets, ruby rings, and her bejeweled crown. This was a profession of even greater devotion, and he gave her 1/3 of his kingdom. Finally, the third and youngest daughter approached, and told him, “Father. I love you more than salt.” Salt? He said. That useless little seasoning that is everywhere, and is virtually worthless. You love me only as much as salt? Fine, he said, if salt is all you love, then salt is all you will have. He proceeded to give her a large bag of salt, and banished her from the kingdom.

The youngest daughter wandered to the next kingdom, and found employment as a scullery maid in a local castle. Then, as often happens in these kinds of tales, the prince noticed her beauty and kindness, and fell in love with her. They planned to marry. In the meantime, her two sisters who measured worth by baubles and trifles seized the kingdom from their father, who became a homeless beggar. Banished to the neighboring kingdom, he happened on a grand celebration that was being planned, the prince’s wedding. As the people assembled in the courtyard, his daughter, peering down from a window above, recognized her father in the crowd. She immediately dashed off to the castle kitchen, where she ordered the wedding feast to be prepared, BUT without salt. The whole village later sat down to this gala feast. Soon they were gagging, and spitting and grumbling, just as we might when we taste food that lacks salt. This soup is terrible, they all shouted. It is so bland. As soon as the beggar tasted his soup, tears began to well up in his eyes. He realized what was missing. One cannot live without salt, he thought. How cruel he was to his daughter, who really loved him the best, with the truest most valuable commodity, better than gold in many countries. When he saw her, she explained how her love for him was like salt – although invisible, it was ever present, an underlying essential ingredient, and without it her life lacked all savor and joy. She could not imagine living without loving him just as she could not imagine eating soup without salt. And so there was a deep sense of forgiveness for the errors of the past, and the resolve to renew their love. The soup was thrown out, and the feast made again. Forgiveness is an attribute of the brave, Gandhi said. This forgiveness, this reaching across barriers of hate or anger is the difficult challenge we all confront, through separation, fear, alienation and deprivation. It is the tough path, but as people of faith we are called to forego revenge to discover friendship, to find truth where we hear lies, to bring justice to lives of oppression, to bring the taste of salt back to our lives,

There are also true stories of when salt has been brutally denied to a people who need it for commerce, for living. In West Africa, in Mali, and perhaps most famously in India. In the spirit of Jesus, Henry David Thoreau, and Leo Tolstoy, a soul walked this earth in the twentieth century who sought justice and truth when confronted with injustice, lies and oppression. Born in the month of October, he was Mohandas K. Gandhi, a person whose message of non-violence lived again in the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and this message of truth seeking beckons to us. India had always existed as a commercial venture of the British Empire. British exploitation was exemplified by the transformation of an ancient tradition of salt making and trading in India, especially along the east coast in an area known as Orissa. At the same time the British were seeking an expansion of their markets for salt, they found Liverpool salt could not compete in price or quality with Orissa salt. By 1804, salt became a British monopoly. It was illegal henceforth for anyone other than the government to manufacture salt. During the coming decades, salt plants were closed down, workers had no jobs, and had to leave their homes to find work elsewhere, even as their traditional cash crop lay sparking at their feet in crusty formations. Protests against these policies began in 1888. Then in 1923 the salt tax was doubled. Gandhi seized upon this long bubbling cauldron of despair. After reading Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, he said, “”The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”

And so he did. Salt was a means of livelihood. Salt was a source of life. Everyone ate salt, and it was being denied to the Indian people. Gandhi decided he would resist with Satyagraha – the force of truth, that would, he said, lift both sides. His ambition was to convert the British people through non-violence. Getting the British to do something was not enough. He felt they must believe. The Salt Campaign became a means to accomplish Indian independence. Gandhi wrote to the viceroy of India saying that if you cannot deal with these evils, then we will march. We shall “disregard the provisions of the salt laws. I regard this tax to be the most iniquitous of all from the poor man’s standpoint. As the independence movement is essentially for the poorest in the land, the beginning will be made with this evil. The wonder is that we have submitted to the cruel monopoly for so long.”

Was there something that could offer hope?

*Hymn #1045 “There is a Balm in Gilead”

Words of purification –

Salt has many uses. It is a purifying and cleansing agent. It is poured on babies to indicate human longings for good health and a long life. Now we take the salted and boiled water, and use that to cleanse our hands. Jesus said salt can lose its saltiness, and then it is no good. In ancient times salt could become contaminated with other organic materials, and be ruined. It was then used as we might use gravel, as a simple pathway to be walked upon. Jesus did not want his followers to lose this sense of taste for the salt. He wanted them to have the discipline and resolve to keep the world moral. He wanted to call the people back to their best selves. And so we purify with water all that places us, as Gandhi said, “in danger of losing our soul.” – desires, attachments, control, selfishness, and prepares us to taste the salt once more.

Salt Communion – On March 12, 1930, Gandhi and 78 followers from the ashram left with the intention of walking 240 miles to the sea, where they would defy British law by scraping up salt. Beginning at 6:30 a.m., they marched for 12 hours a day. Before the others rose, Gandhi had already been up for hours spinning and writing. He said they were marching in the name of God. When they reached the sea, he led a few marchers into the water for purification. He picked up a chunk of salt crust, and one pilgrim shouted out: Hail, Deliverer!

Salt protests spread. It became a national movement. Salt gathering became widespread. Gandhi was imprisoned. Marchers were beaten down, but did not raise a hand in response. Other rows of marchers were beaten. As many as 100,000 protesters were placed in jail. Then the English sat outside Gandhi’s cell, begging him to help them get out of their difficulties. When he finally sealed an agreement with the viceroy, they did so over tea. Gandhi said his tea would be water with lemon, and a pinch of salt
(I will now circulate two bowls among you – the first is salted water to purify, and the second is salt so that we can regain our taste

As salt is passed, you are invited to take and taste.

“I invite you to share salt” (adapted from Richard Boeke)

I invite you to share salt to honor all those spiritual voices that remind us that – The purpose of life is undoubtedly to know oneself. We cannot do it unless we learn to identify ourselves with all that lives. The sum total of that life is God.

I invite you to share salt to acknowledge the self-discipline and labor which is the source of the bread of
life. May we learn discipline, ever seeking knowledge.

I invite you to share salt with the knowledge that judgment must be used. Too much becomes a poison in our system. Too little becomes a hunger and a longing. May we injure none. May we live in balance.

I invite you to share salt in affirmation that you are the salt of the earth. May we be disciples – hard workers, who are simple and humble in our living. In the salt of sweat and tears we taste our humanness.

In 1930 Gandhi and thousands marched to affirm the truth force. Gandhi once said, ‘We feel that the law that governs brute creation is not the law that should govern the human race. That law is inconsistent with human dignity.” I invite you to share salt in witness to the affirmation that there is a higher moral truth than law, and that right now there is injustice for thousands of immigrants living among us.

May the force of truth walk in our lives.

May we reaffirm the covenant of salt. May we reaffirm the life force in us all.

Closing Words – from Mohandas K. Gandhi

I have been convinced more than ever that human nature is much the same, no matter under what clime it flourishes, and that if you approached people with trust and affection you would have ten-fold trust and thousand fold affection returned to you.