Monday, January 3, 2011


Can a fleece pullover deepen your relationship with God?

Recently I caught myself imagining a Patagonia shirt like some people fantasize about a lover's embrace. Winter arrives to this oak savanna with the highballing wail of a diesel freight. Then the Patagonia store, just yards from my workplace, beckons like a glowing potbelly stove.

I wear Patagonia's flannels and fleeces almost every day, but the documentary 180 Degrees South turned me into a devoted customer. Supporting this company complements my own spiritual practice: Patagonia's mission emphasizes sustainable living and environmental stewardship. Their products are organic or recyclable, and a solid portion of their annual profit goes toward protecting wild nature.

The shirt in my mind was a new Synchilla pullover. The brown acrylic fleece feels soft as peat moss, and the texture's sturdiness hints of a cabin's unpeeled logs. The blue trim suggests a bright clean February dawn when the air stings your throat as you step outside. Hardy and warm, the garment is field-tested in the wilderness. Even its seams hold the promise of long hikes amid snowy spruce, hot cups of coffee, laughter and stories around a crackling fire.

I wanted to own a Synchilla.

I sat at my desk and didn't feel like doing work. Instead I pictured myself in my neighborhood coffeehouse reading a book, wearing that fleece. Or sitting with it at the meditation center, observed by the entire group in quiet admiration. I closed my eyes and smiled.

In that moment the pullover embodied a spiritual desire to share my sense of simplicity with the world. 'He owns a Synchilla made from recycled soda bottles!' people would think. 'That man's mindful of the environment and embraces everything in it.' Spending $100 dollars on this fleece no longer just seemed like the right thing for me to do--it was now an opportunity to deepen my relationship with God. And I'd look good doing it.

I returned home determined to purchase the shirt. Soon I'd be the proud owner of a Synchilla. The chore of cleaning my apartment, though, kept me from running to Patagonia. Instead I folded my flannels with their earthy colors and my fleeces with their sturdy zippers. They usually sit atop my bed because I wear them too regularly to put away. As I set them in a drawer, however, I spotted another fleece at the bottom.

This old pullover, my first fleece from Patagonia, hadn't been worn in months. The fabric felt warm and soft, but it was often lost among the other, more colorful and zippered fleeces. It was  never my favorite. I'd rarely worn it hiking. It didn't even match with my flannels. I could forget that fleece for the entire winter.

But the Synchilla would be completely different. Its newness carried the potential of a more authentic way of living.

I held the old fleece to my face. It smelled musty like the drawer. 'Time for you to go,' I  thought. 'You're only taking space.' On a whim, before tossing it in a donate pile, I looked at the faded tag.

Synchilla, it read.

Steps toward equanimity come in all shapes and sizes. These steps are usually humbling for me. This winter my old Synchilla pullover will keep me warm whether I'm walking with my neighbors or hiking in the North Country. By doing so, that fleece might help draw me closer to God.