what we have in common

Perhaps we grew impatient, or

maybe it was nothing more than rage

at the distance between

what is right and what is wrong

in this world God has made:

the cry for justice that feels worth a damn

waging war against armchair ethicists at a quiet remove;

the vision of a world held in common

where everyone actually has enough

over against so many clenched fists

screaming into the void as they worry only for their own;

exasperation with the quiet cruelty

of a thousand silent power-mongers

who wave the desperate flags

of their pitiful political tribes

while quietly amassing their fortunes

as the dis-enfranchised,

the dis-empowered,

the dis-illusioned

gasp for breath in the poisoned atmosphere

that is our god-forsaken inheritance.

What happened is,

I thought I recognized you:

a kindred spirit,

fellow traveller on this path

who dreams of something brighter, something better,

if we only had the courage to let that vision cost us something,

and though we are different

(in so many ways)

the truth is simple:

I would rather walk this path with you

than walk alone.

On an early fall morning

There is so much I would tell you

if there were time, if you had time.

I would tell you how the trees are shedding their raiment,

their leaves scattered across the turf

like the cast offs of careless teenagers.

Or how, last night, my heart briefly swelled in my chest

as I pondered the overwhelming beauty of the world

alongside the inevitability of suffering

that is the birthright of the living,

as constant as the velvet darkness

that gathers herself around every solitary star.

I would tell you how you are to me:

a silent companion, kindly but distant, like a ghost,

and how I cannot pretend that you are here,

but also, how you are never fully gone.

But it is not possible to tell you these things;

the distance is too far;

I see through the mirror dimly, or not at all.

So instead I watch the steam curl off my neighbor’s roof

in the morning sun, straining for a glimpse

of that penumbral confluence where air and water merge into one.

The Stories We Tell

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the ways in which we live out the stories that we told about ourselves when we were young.* It is fascinating to trace the person that I am today back to the person I was when I was fourteen years old. I ask myself: how is it possible that the struggles I faced back then continue to live and breath now? And yet they do.

Before I go any further, let me be clear about something–I had a pretty happy childhood. Idyllic, even. I never doubted that my parents loved me, my siblings and I got along (most of the time), and we were not subject to the whims of illness, or poverty, or drug abuse, or any of a myriad of traumas that can afflict a home and a child. We were so lucky. So privileged in so many ways.

And yet.

My adolescent self was plagued with self-doubt. You wouldn’t have known that to look at me–I projected a great deal of confidence, especially around adults. I was competitive, and academically strong. But all of that was a grand cover. Around my peers, I couldn’t shake the conviction that they knew something that I didn’t. I felt awkward in my own skin all of the time. And when I looked at my (younger) sister, who seemed so popular and beautiful and at ease, I was convinced that it was something inside me that was wrong. I was the problem.

It is amazing how something like this can eat away at your self-confidence over the years. If you believe that you are a problem, and if you are also someone who believes that problems are meant to be fixed, then you are going to spend much of your energy trying to diagnose yourself, and the rest of what is in you administering the cure. And so I tried all sorts of things: I changed my clothes. I starved my body, I grasped about for answers in books, in church, in culture. I pretended to like the things that people who seemed far more interesting than me enjoyed.

It was miserable.

Even worse, it didn’t work.

So I doubled down on self-recrimination.

By the time I got to college, I knew that I needed a fresh start, but the only “me” that I knew was a striver who was desperate to please. I learned, quickly, that on a large university campus, there are countless opportunities to remake yourself. But I stuck to that same, toxic script. I kept stuffing myself in a box that seemed acceptable, single-minded in my pursuit of success but always with my attention focused on how I might find acceptance in others. I joined rigid community groups–Marching Band, Campus Crusade for Christ, a military recruitment program for aspiring clergy–hoping that within the confines of those spaces I would find what I was looking for. Instead, I learned the hard truth that letting other people dictate the boundaries of your acceptable self serves only to isolate you further. All they did was offer further evidence of my inadequacy.

I’m not sure what flipped the script. Somewhere in college, I started to care about my own well-being enough to make it more of a priority. I never fully stopped performing for other people, but I started to care a little more about what made me happy. What brought me joy. I started to be okay with disappointing some people if it meant choosing myself. It felt good to care about myself. It still does.

But the ghost of my teenage self still haunts me. She lingers at the edge of sight, and when life is feeling unmanageable, as it is right now, she sidles closer and whispers that all of this is my fault. That I am the problem. Sometimes, I can see her for what she is. Many more times, I am tempted to believe her. And when I do, I am right back where I started: anxious, afraid, certain that at any moment, the shoe will drop and everyone will figure out that I am a fraud.

Lately I have found myself wondering how things might have turned out differently if I had not felt it so critical to hide myself, and my insecurity and fears all those years ago? What if my younger self had felt like she could have said what she was feeling out loud? what if someone had seen her struggle, drawn close and whispered, “it’s okay. I see you. you can be afraid with me?” How might my life have turned out differently if I had made that choice to be fully known?

I think of this as I raise my own children. As I watch them silently struggle with their own fears and insecurities. I tell myself, if you will not be that person for them, then who will? I tell myself, the choices you make right now will ripple forward, and while you cannot control that, you can make sure that those that you love know that they are loved, and accepted, exactly as they are. If you wish to make a difference in their lives, perhaps you will have to risk being vulnerable now in ways that you could not be when you were young.

I tell myself this, and I wonder: does the adolescent within me hear? And if she does, would she believe me?

*hazard of seeking therapy, I suppose.

Love is as Strong as Death

I got the call as I was leaving a lunch date with a lovely church member who lost his dear wife back in June. Another fucking overdose in our little community, a 27-year old young man with a lifetime of struggle in his past. He had just left the sober house, had told his parents “I can’t keep living like this.” He was right. He could not keep living, not like this. And now he is gone.

And so the mothers in our recovery community are raging today. They are wailing and rending their clothes at another senseless death, even as they worry over their sons and daughters whose struggle is the same. It always comes in threes, one whispered to me through tears on the phone. I was over here worried about my son, my daughter, my grand baby. I didn’t see this one coming.

Do we ever see death clearly? For death is an unknown landscape littered hip-deep with the hangups that our family and cultural systems have wrought within us. It is a place many of us fear to tread, a Pandora’s box to keep tightly shut. And so we avoid it at all costs, even when the price that is counted is our children, our neighbors, our friends who are struggling.

It is not so with everyone. I know that of us are hungry to talk about death more frankly. I am craving honest conversation on the topic. I want to journey with people who are not afraid to face their own finitude, who know they will die, and for whom that fact is a reason to live all the more fully in the present. I want to, in the words of JK Rowling, “greet death as an old friend” instead of an enemy to be vanquished.

So today I am letting myself feel all of the feels. I will sit in the quiet of my room and drink a cider, and think back on the beloveds that I have lost. I think back to my own uncle, who never lived to be as old as I am now. I think of his desperate struggle to leave his heroin addiction in the past. Of the pain that he caused in his family, who wanted nothing more than for him to live without the struggles of addiction, but who also struggled to live with him in his addiction. Of his own plaintive cry: “I can’t keep living like this.” I was only 10 years old when he took his life, and I still do not know exactly how he did it. His death was hidden behind the veil of adult conversation, not accessible to a child who saw more than they knew, but did not understand.

I remember Elizabeth, who fought her addiction invisibly because no-one wanted to admit that a 16 year old girl could possibly be addicted to anything. And Tommy, her brother, a sweet and suffering young man who took his life when he was no older than his sister had been when she left this life. I mourn them, I keep watch, and I refuse to forget them, or erase their stories. I choose this because life is precious, and I don’t want to forget that for a single second. Even if that truth causes me pain. Because I cannot imagine living any other way.

Social Media and the Politics of the Personal

Earlier this year, I deleted nearly a thousand friends off of my Facebook page. I say that not to brag, mind you. I have been on Facebook for 15 years, long enough to accumulate a small army of friends, acquaintances, and honest-to-goodness strangers. It was an arduous process, and yet it felt necessary, like setting down a weight that I had placed upon myself and then had proceeded to forget was there. At the very same time I couldn’t bring myself to step away entirely, and for weeks I wondered if I would regret this decision to unburden.

I did not see this coming. In the early days of social media, I found the connections made possible by facebook and its like thrilling. How exciting, I thought, to so easily be able to connect to my friends! Back then, our cell phone plans charged by the text, and then suddenly the internet provided a way to make late night coffee plans for free. Even now, Facebook will sometimes surface a “memory” from those early times, detailed plans to meet at a landmark at a particular time, or terrible college jokes that have not aged, and I cannot help but pause to examine these technological artifacts, missives from a distant time when the world of social media was comprised almost entirely of people with whom I already spent my days.

As I have grown older, I must confess that I have struggled with a sense of dis-ease regarding the role that social media plays in my life. How can something so incredibly vulnerable also be so utterly impersonal at the same time? I cannot conceive of another space quite like it. Where else can one shout the deepest truths of themselves into the void of their scattered friendships, preserved in the amber of source code so that others whom they cannot see or touch or speak with can answer? It is as though one had written a letter that was then copied again and again, shared with friends and strangers alike.

And where else can one feel so crowded by other souls, and yet so…lonely… at the same time? On social media, little green dots tell me who is also there, swimming in a sea of photos and comments and tiktok videos, and yet I cannot see them, or know their lives clearly at all. No wonder we post over and over again. We send up our flares into that algorithmic sea, whose current to us is a mystery, hoping that someone will notice. And then we wait and watch for signs that we have been found–we wait and watch for the reaffirming ding of likes, and hearts and comments to validate our fear that our worth is to be found in our being noticed by others.

I confess that I find the whole experience both terrifying and thrilling. I want so badly to be seen and accepted as I am, to be known and loved. And all the while I agonize over the perfect framing of the picture, the right combination of words to convey with precision the sentiment I am holding within me that will convey the right combination of light-heartedness and seriousness, levity mixed precisely so with wisdom. In the process I lose the very thing I crave, for I control and contort myself into something that I believe will be more palatable than. the person that I actually am. In seeking to connect, I end up obscuring myself. It is like peering through a glass, dimly. The shape resembles the truth, and yet, I cannot be certain that I am seen as I am.

What I really want is to draw near to the people I care about. Not the false nearness of instagram, or Facebook, or any other number of applications that (so often successfully) vie for my attention. I want intimacy that is personal, the thrill of a real voice with a beating heart and sinew behind it, a soul that knows a real, living version of me, not some Potemkin village that I have hastily constructed for others viewing pleasure. I want to swim in the delicious pool of being fully known by someone who knows me, seen by someone who sees me, free of the artifice of a perfect frame or filter.

And so I struggle. I reach out my hands to the people who have my heart, and at the same time I construct a beautiful picture in the hopes that they will notice. I put myself out there, and I am tempted to control the narrative. Welcome to being human, I tell myself. There is nothing simple about it, is there?

Writing again

It’s been a minute. 11 months to be exact, but the truth is that I haven’t been writing as much here at all lately. Over the last few years, time that I might have spent writing was instead handed over to the “realities” of daily life (translation: responsibilities to other people in my life). Rarely, if ever, have I been able (read: willing) to stop, take a breath, and to reflect on the simplest question: Am I happy? Is this the life I want for myself? If I could do it over again, would I make the same choices?

Would you? The most honest answer, for me at least, is no. One messy and inconvenient human truth is that most (ALL) of us are living a compromise. We have made choices, and those choices have set us walking a path before us, as well as carried us farther from other possibilities that could otherwise have delighted or sorrowed our souls.

Now, throw in a few companions on the journey, and, well, it becomes harder to change direction, doesn’t it? As someone who lives to please the people around me, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t acknowledge that often I will keep on going on a particular path because I don’t want to disappoint the people who have expectations of me (hi mom and dad!). And while some of my choices were worth every hardship, others are far more complicated, and the answers vary from day to day.

But what about disappointing myself? I don’t often ask that question. Do you? And how is that not just as important, perhaps even more important, than what others think of me?

It sounds so simple, and yet there is a whole cultural infrastructure built around keeping up our appearances. Our churches, our communities, our families would almost certainly prefer that we just “go along and get along.” They would prefer that we wear nice clothes, and say nice words, and tell pretty stories. Stay neat and pick up your trash. Carry on and whatever you do, pick up your mess before anyone sees it. Messy people rarely get to stay at the center of anything “important”–they end out on the edges quicker than toupee in a hurricane. (wouldn’t it be easy if we could just tell ourselves that we don’t care what other people think? But we belong to these communities because they are full of people we love. We want them to accept us. And so we convince ourselves that this is the price of admission.)

It’s particularly fascinating to me that my faith tradition of Christianity is so fixated on this notion that we need to have our shit together. That in order for the world to respect us, we have to be….respectable. We make up our vision boards and imagine a solid foundation, and while we use lovely words and invent clever turns of phrase, invariably it looks like some variation of: money, resources, power. We tell ourselves that we want to pursue the mission of Christ, forgetting that his mission would ask us to forsake everything, perhaps even our own lives, for the sake of a world in which there are no edges, where valleys are flat and mountains are brought low, and not a single little one is lost.

But damn if can’t let go of our need for influence and power. Damn if we haven’t silenced ourselves because it might make us unpopular, or put us at odds with the people whose money we crave. We wear our need to be accepted and acceptable like a millstone around our necks, dragging it along like the filthy bag of trash that it is because “it’s the way we have always been.” We have been carrying that baggage around for a long time, heaving it from generation to generation and don’t even think to question it (because if you do,… well, that would be messy). It’s been there so long that we started to believe that the grooves that formed in our shoulders were a part of God’s plan, rather than deformation.

We’ve carried it, and in the process, we forgot that the Word of God is a story for misfits and fucked up outsiders. We forgot that the ancestors of our faith were a hot mess. That they made SERIOUS errors in judgement on the regular, and those mistakes (only sometimes) made them better people. And that God loved them in that messiness. Even more: God found a way through that messiness to sometimes help us do some really amazing things. Because all God wanted for us was for creation to thrive. For ‘adamah to embrace the truth of imago dei within it, recognize God’s image in their neighbor, and maybe be a little less trash in the process.

So why am I wasting so much energy worrying about what will happen if I am a mess? If I am broken? If I am “too much” or “not the right sort of Christian?” If I am embracing God’s love for me, and seeking to live as one who is prepared to die (thanks, Ecclesiastes!), then isn’t that enough? How can that not move mountains?

by Ricardo Levins Morales, whose art speaks truth to me.

Just so we are clear: my people-pleasing-desperate-to-fit-in-and-be-loved self is screaming at me as I write this. She’s definitely not a fan. She’s convinced that I’m going to blow up everything, and that I will regret every mistake I make. She’s worked hard to make me who I am, and it is pissing.her.off that I want to blow it all up. She wants me to believe that it’s safer to avoid every risk. To push my ragged edges out of sight because what if people see them? What the hell would they think of that? I suspect she won’t shut up any time soon, either. But I’m trying to convince her that the person she should care about the most is the person I see when I look in the mirror. The person who desperately needs to feel alive, not just to others but to herself.

Guest Post: Sarah Donovan

suicidepreventionmonthI know there this some serious things happening in the world with the refugee crisis and I spoke with my pastor this week about it, but feel I need to talk about another topic right now. September is National Suicide Prevention Month. I have known people who have lost people to Suicide I want to talk to you about young adults and suicide.

This is a hard topic for me because unlike some people suicide has personally affected my life. I have a form of mental illness, I am not talking about having a bad day every now and then or having a drug problem I am talking about something that developed inside of me that I have no control over and no idea when its going to blow up and take over my life and so I have to treat with medication and therapy and some times hospitalization. I know how hard it is to talk about suicide but I know how important it is to bring up the subject. When I was a teenager and first dealing with my problems my mother would talk to me about suicide, I would roll my eyes and think why is she talking to me about this, but I would remember when I was at my lowest point hearing my mother’s voice in my head and how much of an impact that made.

People NEED to talk to children. Not just teenagers, but not only talk to them they need to listen to them. In fact they need to list to the child before they speak to the child. Children and teenagers are amazing, sit down with one and talk to them, trust me it will not be a waste of your time. So many children are afraid to share what’s bothering them; they need to know they have a voice and that their voice matters. There are too many kids out there today who think that people don’t’ care about them and what they have to say, there are kids out there who are being bullied and who don’t have a voice. We need to make sure these kids are given a chance to have a voice and that, their voice is heard. We need to stop young people ending their lives before they have a chance to live them. Please reach out to a child.


Sarah Donovan is a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a lover of cats and an avid traveller.  She recently celebrated earning her degree in Electrical Engineering from UMass Lowell.  

A Living Wage

How much money do you need to live well? That’s the question that the living wage movement has been trying to address, and lately, it has been having a moment.

Florida_Tomato_Workers1_1Y’all have probably seen the headlines—about fast foodworkers in NYC, Walmart employees across the country, small communities of hair braiders and manicurists taking to the street and the internet and making the case for the “living wage.” Or maybe you remember further back, to Taco Bell’s Tomato pickers in Florida who went on strike a decade ago to draw attention to slavery conditions and unfair wages in the tomato fields of Immokalee Florida, or the 2000 movement in Baltimore led by religious leaders and activitists who came together to argue that tax dollars shouldn’t subsidize poverty-wage jobs, and who saw the living wage movement as a means to address local policy towards the working poor.

And then there are the more recent stories—about companies like Gravity Payments in Seattle, whose CEO cut his own salary in order to allow all of his employees a 70000 wage. About cities like Seattle, San Francisco, NYC, and Los Angeles, who have raised their minimum wage to $15.

In all of these cases, wages are framed as a moral issue—those who argue for a living wage seek to alleviate poverty, to reduce economic, racial, and social inequality, to empower working people, and to address the gaping chasm of inequality that grows wider every year.images

But I bring all of this to your attention because it turns out that the living wage shows up long before the United States of America was a twinkle in the eyes of Thomas Jefferson. You see, long before we were debating wages in American society, Jesus was using them to teach the disciples lessons about God in our Scripture today.

Let’s take a look at the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 20:1-16:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

A few things we can notice immediately about this story:

  • Things haven’t changed all that much since Jesus’ day. In this parable, the landowner needs laborers, and so what does he do? He goes to the ancient equivalent of the Home Depot and gathers some workers for his vineyard. So we know that in Jesus’ day, there were clear divisions—there was the landed, working class, and then there were the poor who provided day labor, those who left their families as the sun was rising and stood at the side of the marketplace for hours, hoping for a chance to make enough to pay for dinner.
  • How much could they hope to make? Well, it turns out that there was a standard daily wage in effect during Jesus’ lifetime too. In this case, the full day wage for an unskilled laborer was a single denarius, or about $20 in today’s currency. So in exchange for 10-12 hours of labor, the poor could hope to earn as much as $2 an hour for often backbreaking work. They are not paid for the time that they spend waiting for someone to show up and offer them work, so we have to assume that this was better than any alternative.Denarius
  • There are more poor people seeking a job than there are jobs to pay them. We can assume that this is true because the landowner in the story is able to return to the marketplace at noon and again at three, and finally at 5pm, which means that there are men who may have been waiting for a job for twelve hours before the landowner finds them. In each case, he agrees to “pay what is right,” which likely assumed they would receive less than the daily wage.

All of this is the backdrop to the story that Jesus plans to tell about God. And I think that it is helpful to remember at this point that Jesus told lessons in parables like this because he could describe something familiar to his audience. We can assume, then, that the people he was speaking to were familiar with this economic exchange. This was the stuff of daily life for many of them.

We can also assume something else, and that is this: that the people he was speaking to weren’t landowners. It is unlikely that a crowd of landowners had the time or the interest to follow Jesus around as he healed and taught in the countryside. What is more likely is that the laborers—again, the unskilled, the poor, the immigrants and the aliens—had little to lose in spending the day with Jesus. His ability to heal the sick and cure the wounded without expectation of payment likely made him quite popular amongst those who could barely afford to eat.   Miraculous stories like the feeding of the five thousand probably sealed the deal for those who had little experience with the gracious providence of God.

Because that is exactly where this story is going. Because like many of Jesus’ parables, the story of the laborers in the vineyard takes an unexpected turn. After a day of work in the vineyard, the laborers gather to receive their wage. The landowner asks them to gather together based upon the time at which they were hired, presumably to differentiate their wages, and he calls those who were hired last to come up first.

Imagine the surprise of the other workers when they see that those who were hired last receive a full days wage! At first, they are excited—if this is how much the late-comers receive, then they are sure to receive even more! But expectation quickly turns to grumbling as they find that every person, from the last down to the first, receives the same.

It seems unfair. They grumble against them landowner, pointing out how much harder and longer they have worked, forgetting that they have received the wage that they agreed to. The wage that seemed sufficient until another worked less and received the same. They do not consider the hours that their neighbors endured by the marketplace, praying for work. They do not consider the calculations that their fellow laborers may have made as they wondered how they would pay for bread for their little ones. All they see is the perceived unfairness of today’s boss.0e621993_blogheadergrumbling

How often do we find ourselves in this situation—where we have labored long and hard to sustain a simple life, even as others seem to gain an easy life without much effort? How often have we found ourselves grumbling against the perceived ease of our neighbors, comparing our hardships against theirs? And how often have we felt that we were dealt an unfair hand, or than another was given an unfair advantage? How much energy have we spent building a ledger by which to compare our lives to our neighbors?

And how often do we consider what we do not see? Because when we spend our time building a spreadsheet to compare ourselves to our neighbor, what we miss is the good news—a story about the unmerited generosity of God. Because Jesus never set out to offer a blueprint on how to earn God’s favor. This isn’t really a story about wages and unskilled labor at all. Rather, it is a lesson about how life in God’s Country is different than our own. In God’s Country, no person is left by the edge of the market place. In God’s country, God keeps going back to gather up those who have been forgotten, and gives them a place to offer their gifts. In God’s Country, everyone has enough to feed their family today.

grace lifeJesus’ parable is a reminder to us that no person deserves the grace that God has offered. In the words of Paul: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ—by Grace we have been saved. In other words—It turns out that all of us are the late-coming laborers! By grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing, but it is a gift of God. None of us were here when the sun came up, and yet God has given us the gift of grace just the same. So perhaps it is time to give those who come after us a break. Perhaps we can make space for others to receive this gift which we did not deserve. And perhaps we can let go of the ledger sheet on which we measure our worthiness, and the worthiness of our neighbor, so that we can begin to appreciate the gift of grace for what it is: a living wage for all.

Seeing is Believing

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

John 20: 24-25

This afternoon hubby and I made our first (and hopefully only) visit to the local hospital in order to have an ultrasound on young “Snaggy,” as we have been calling the creature inhabiting my body for the last 22 weeks or so (there is a story, but it isn’t worth repeating here).  While our birth center doesn’t require any fetal imaging for low risk pregnancies like mine, we decided we wanted to go through with the 20-week (or in our case, 22-week) fetal anatomy scan.  The point of the scan, essentially, is to confirm fetal age (and therefore also due date), as well as get as many photos as possible of things like the heart, kidneys, bladder, stomach, and extremities in order to confirm that things are going as they should.

The ultrasound took about an hour, and the tech was extremely nice to us both, pointing out the various elements of the scanning to us as well as commenting on our apparently quite active little critter.  An hour later, we left with copies of a couple of the ultrasound shots, and a healthy dose of information regarding el nino’s health and well-being.

All-in-all, it was an interesting process, but it also got me to thinking a little on the way home about the importance of seeing.  By all accounts, hubby and I have no reason to suspect that anything would be wrong with “snaggy”–we are both young and healthy, and the midwives at our birth center are confident of our baby’s health as well.  And yet, having someone show us that little critter flipping around inside of me, pointing out a healthy heart and kidneys and bladder, along with legs and arms that look as they ought, feels somehow like the proof we needed.

But it is more than that. It has been getting harder and harder to forget that I am pregnant these days (any tendency to forget is mediated by a growing belly, a slower run pace, and the jabs of this little one gaining its strength), but seeing it someone confirms the peculiar truth that there is a little person inside of me, a little critter with its own mind and heart that is growing and experiencing life even as we speak.  For hubby and I, to see its face for the first time was in some ways to realize its reality.

So what is it exactly about seeing something with one’s eyes that is peculiarly truth-affirming?  Why is it that we, like the disciple Thomas, find that seeing something makes believing it easier?  What is it about humanity that the eyes, easy to fool as they are, become a means toward accepting what often is there?  I must admit, there is a part of me that is uneasy with the need to see to believe.  Part of me wasn’t certain I wanted to do the ultrasound at all–I found myself wondering to what extent seeing this child might limit the possibilities that await us down the line.  While it is nice to see, there is something about seeing that has the potential to kill the mystery of a thing.  For when we see, our imaginations no longer fill in the blanks–whether it be God, a baby, or anything else.  And while some things indeed need to be seen, I find that I tend to prefer to sit with the mystery when given a chance.

Don’t get me wrong–I am happy that this baby is healthy, and it was amazing to see its little self flipping around within me.  But I also imagine that I would be just as happy to wait for the inevitable future in which it will be in my arms–because no matter what, this baby is gonna be a reality soon enough.


Poison Ivy: God’s Great Leveller

For the lover of Nature, there is no end to the supply of theological and philosophical musings on the wonder of God’s creation.  Whether it is Ralph Waldo Emerson or Anne Dillard, Michael Pollan or Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry or Barbara Kingsolver or even Mary Oliver, one does not have to look far to find 200 pages or so of poetic verse dedicated to the intricate beauty of those who inhabit the land.

It is a secret delight of mine, I must admit, to linger over the pages of authors such as these, and to imagine in full color and with vibrant imagination the experiences that they detail on paper–the rush of the mighty wind, the cool waters teeming with dappled trout, the way in which words can transform even the obnoxious gadfly into a meditation on the holy, or a rotting trunk into a moral on the universe.

But there is a limit, it would seem to such musings.

Rarely, for example, have I seen an author turn their “reverent” gaze on poison ivy.  It is as though this persnickity plant, ubiquitous though it may be throughout the United States, has failed to register in the writer’s worldview.  It would seem that it is not worthy of the printer’s page.

Perhaps it is the visual humility of this plant that causes it to escape our notice.  For certainly it grows low to the ground, with only a few leaves to its name.  No wonder the plant at first glance–and even perhaps at a second and third–seems forgettable.  It is literally drowned out by the glory of the oaks and the buzzing of the arthropods, often hidden beneath its more majestic neighbors.

And so it is that we too easily forget this lowly creation as we turn our gaze to the grander aspects of Nature.  We write it off as base, a pest to be avoided, and we go about our business glorifying its neighbors.  But is this fair to poison ivy?  Is it not majestic in its own way?  If we wish to wax poetic over the majesty of God’s creation in the oak, ought we not also wonder at the cunning of this creature?

I found myself wondering at precisely this question last week, following my first encounter with this lowly little vine. As a Californian from the Bay, I grew up unfamiliar with ivy, for I lived in one of the few places in this country where the plant doesn’t grow.  And so it was that, when I moved to Philadelphia and began the process of amending the impoverished soil in my back yard for a small garden, it never occurred to me to familiarize myself with ivy.  The problem of ivy never even crossed my mind.

Which is precisely why, the day after a particularly vigorous weeding sans gloves, I was suprised to discover that my the space between my fingers on my right hand was becoming swollen with tiny blisters that itched the living daylights out of me.  Even then, it took me almost a day to discover the source of the blisters, and to begin to educate myself so that I would never make the mistake again.

Score one for the poison ivy.

In underestimating poison ivy, I had, like so many nature writers, dismissed it from my notice, and this is precisely what allowed this little plant to teach me a lesson.  For in underestimating its power, I succumbed to it.  In ignoring the plant, I made it possible for the ivy to hold my attention for at least a week, an unfortunate reminder to me that some plants know how to pay it forward in ways that we cannot imagine.  Some plants, like poison ivy, have a way of teaching respect to those who would offend them.  For certainly, the oak is majestic, but its beauty has never impelled me to scour the library and the internet for information on how it works.

It is interesting to me, in fact, that it is the more pesky plants and animals in God’s creation that inspire knowledge.  We are often much more keen to understand the mosquitos and the poison ivies of God’s created order than the gaudy and obvious splendors.  But rarely to we engage them with an eye towards the sacred.  Rarely do we speak of the sumacs and the fleas as God’s good creation as well.

As for me, I may have trouble seeing the fleas as beautiful, but I have gained an appreciation for poison ivy.  In the garden, I approach it with reverence, and I think twice before I deign to interfere with its turf.  It may look lowly, but even the highest of us all dress down once in a while.  And besides, it was in some of the lowliest creations that Jesus himself found beauty and God’s glory at work.