People Who Shine

Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save;
they just stand there shining. - Anne Lamott
I was surprised to see her checkout lane was nearly empty, as it’s often full.  I quickly jumped in although I had no pressing needs.  She was talking with the customer ahead of me, an older woman who was digging through her purse for God-knows what.  The purse was huge, the typical kind filled with little pieces of crumpled paper and various plastic cards held together by rubber bands. 
I overheard bits of their conversation as I loaded my few items onto the belt and then stood staring somewhat obviously and impatiently at the purse.  I absentmindedly wondered how one’s purse gets to be like that. 
The talk was of a diagnosis and surgery delayed.  Possible cancer on the customer’s part and the cashier moved the conversation easily between jovial joking and caring concern. 
“Where is it, in your lungs?” she asked. 
“No,” the customer replied leaning in closer over the conveyor, “my uterus.” 
Without missing a beat the cashier responded, “But you don’t smoke there!”
They burst into peals of laughter over the shared joke, then the conversation moved on to wondering how long she would have to wait for test results and concluded with the adage that “no news is good news.”      
*  *  *  *  *
Grocery shopping can be a stressful experience for a mother of young children.  By the time we get to the checkout lane, I’m often nervous as the sand in my hourglass quickly shifts from patience and obedience toward anxiety (on my part) and melt-downs (on the kids’ part).   I’ve often picked Joyce’s* lane, not only because she’s fast, but because she’s caring.  I don’t think I’ve ever been through her lane without her making a kind comment, asking a question about one of my often fussing children, or offering a sticker to each of them. 
I told her this once, how I sought her out in the checkout lanes, and she told me she hears that a lot from customers; that the elderly and infirmed, those with disabilities of all sorts, seek her out.  I’ve had glimpses of what grocery shopping might feel like for those with disabilities during times when my back has gone out or near the end of my pregnancy with the twins.  In these times the idea of walking from one end of the grocery store to the other, much less waiting in line to checkout, was nearly overwhelming.  When just getting to the store is a challenge, finding a quick and caring cashier can make a world of difference.  
I could tell Joyce was a little embarrassed, seeing that I overheard her off-color uterus joke.  As if to ease my possible discomfort, she went on to tell me that she’d worked at this store for nine years and in doing-so she’d learned a lot of things about people and found that sometimes a well-timed joke is exactly what’s needed.  She told me she used to keep a journal about the people she meets, minus their names, just their stories and then she said, “Someone could write a book just standing here.”  I told her she should start a blog and she looked at me with embarrassment saying, “I don’t have a computer," then, "What’s a blog?”  I tell her it’s like an on-line journal that everyone can read.  Conversation shifts then as my groceries are bagged and she moves on to joking with the elderly couple in line behind me.  Laughing again and caring. 
*  *  *  *  *
Joyce’s one of those people who shines.  It’s such a blessing for me to see her there in what’s clearly not an easy or well-paid profession.  I’ve worked many similar jobs without really putting my heart, my self into them because I was embarrassed or thought the work was somehow beneath me.  But Joyce brings her whole heart to her life, where it is, and by doing so creates a ministry out of her gifts of efficiency and compassion, her willingness to see and respond, to be moved by the circumstances of those in front of her. 
Matthew tells us, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (9:36-7).”
I don’t know if Joyce is a follower of Christ, but I see her reflecting Christ in the way she continues to “see the crowds” and have compassion for them.  Here’s hoping that we might each do the same today and everyday, wherever we find ourselves, by the grace of God.
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (Romans 12:1 The Message)

Maybe you've noticed someone who "shines" in their everyday ordinary life?  If so, I'd love to hear about it.  Please feel free to comment here or join the conversation over at A Field Of Wild Flowers on Facebook.

* not her real name!

Slowed to the Taste of Blue

My daughter and I are back to school shopping.  We sweep through the big red-framed doors into Target, into the coolness and light and open space that smells like newness and popcorn mingled together.  We stop for a cart and I take off long-striding into the belly of the beast, pushing, pulling my daughter who’s half-walking, half-riding on the cart, half-child that she is. 

It hits me as we charge past the dollar bins that I’m going to have to slow down if I want to be with this girl.  This girl who takes so long to answer a question that you begin to wonder if she heard you, so slow that I’m often tempted to answer for her.  This girl who I too often push and hurry along, my hand on the small of her back.  This girl who is so like me at her age. 

Near the end of our trip we stop by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.  The pharmacist pulls the large hot-pink plastic platter of dum-dum lollipops out from under her side of the counter and sets it down.  My daughter stands in front of it, her face less than a foot away from the wide spread of sugary sweets.  She’s motionless apart from a slight shifting of her head as she gazes at the bowl.  Time pauses.  We wait.  I shift my feet, make eye contact with the pharmacist, and shift my weight again.  My daughter stands still, lifts her right hand toward the bowl as if having decided, then drops it again.  I meet the pharmacists eye.  We wait some more. 

I’m tempted to interject, to offer a question to prod the moment along and suppress the urge not once, not twice, but three times.  The time that passes feels like an eternity to me and the pharmacist finally does interject asking, “Is there are certain kind you’re looking for?”  My daughter doesn’t reply, except to raise her head slightly as though the pharmacist has woken her from a dream, startled her awake somehow.  Her eyes remain fixed on the bowl.  Finally, slowly and specifically she chooses two lollipops, both green, one for her brother at home and one for herself. 

As we head for the exit and the parking lot beyond I wonder what she was doing during all that time.  Then I wonder when it was that I stopped seeing the bowl of lollipops, really seeing it, in all of its color and variety and options.  I wonder what I’ve lost in the incessant stream-lining and fast-forwarding of my life. 

*   *   *   *   *

When my husband first told his mother we’d started dating she asked him three questions.  “Can she cook?” to which he said “Yes.”  “Can she clean?” to which he also said “Yes.”  And, “Is she fast, can she get things done quickly?”  Here my husband paused and thought awhile before replying, “You know, Mom, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kelly do anything fast.” 

I have long legs, impossibly long strides and life has taught me to run while walking.  I don’t know when I became so fast, but I think it had something to do with the never-ending to-do list of motherhood.  The weight of family life pulled on me like so many people drowning and I learned to kick and paddle quicker and quicker, treading water to keep us all afloat.  Or maybe it has to do with the fact that our culture doesn’t put much stock in slowness.  We want a quick fix, we pay for speedier service, fill ourselves with fast food and divide and shuffle our time like cards in a deck trying through every slight-of-hand imaginable to add one more moment to an already full day. 

In some strange, nearly inexplicable way, the addition of the twins has proven to be an invitation to slow down even as it increases the already whirling pace of family life.  We have a large, double-wide jogging stroller and since I can’t carry two children for long we take it almost everywhere.  Suprisingly, I’ve had several moments of awakening, of slowing while pushing that stroller, like the time I felt the blessing of my children rising up around me, as well as other times I’ve yet to write about.  

When I wonder why that is, how it is that I’m somehow more attuned to the realities of the world within and around me when pushing that great, wide stroller spilling over with children, I can only conclude that it’s because of the way it slows me down.  It’s a big stroller, easy to push, but wide.  At the grocery store I joke that I’m pushing a Big Mac and it takes the help of several parents to open the doors in our path as I plod my way in to preschool pickup.  Added to this is the slowing weight of the hands of my four year old and six year old, each perched on the opposite sides of the stroller’s handle so that our width is extended by two more bodies, our pace slowed by the addition of two more souls. 

I wonder, though, if this slowing doesn't somehow also involve the hand of God resting gently, heavily on my life, awakening me to the voice that says, "Slow down.  Life is a meal too rich to be choked down in the back of your van while running from one thing to the next.  Savor it, my child, like the slow melting of a sweet treat on your tongue."  Tradition often describes God's touch as a "quickening of the spirit" but more often I experience God's presence as a slowing and deepening that stretches and broadens the moment, expanding it in beauty and breadth until it resembles a small and fleeting taste of eternity. 

*   *   *   *   *

Just yesterday we were at the doctor again and back to the pharmacy, this time for my daughter who, like her brother the day before, tested positive for strep throat.  My daughter who causes anxiety among the nursing staff as she pauses for an un-godly minute to decide which of the five or more choices of stickers she would like.  My daughter who unfolds slowly like a flower to my questions in the van and finally, by the time her father is home is ready to proclaim that her visit to the doctor was “Brilliant!” 

We again faced the platter of dum-dums.  The pharmacist again is anxious about the waiting and I am too, though I’m trying not to be.  As I wait and the pharmacist sifts through the lollipops to be helpful, I find myself awakened to the moment, my eyes widening in the space my daughter’s slowness creates.  The platter of lollipops lays before us like a rainbow, inviting me to stop, slow down and see.  My eye catches on a blue and white wrapper.  It’s a picture of blueberries in a day-glow color straight out of the eighties.  My hand shoots out of its own accord as if in answer to a question posed by that blue wrapper.  My fingers close in around it just as my daughter finishes picking hers and I look up as if awakening from a dream and meet the pharmacists eye. 

“I’m taking one today, too,” I say as we push off from the counter and head toward home, grateful to be slowed, grateful to be awakened to the taste of blue on my tongue, tangy and sweet, that lasts the whole way home.

The Song our Hearts Sing

My four year old son comes casually and curiously wandering out of his room during quiet time lured, I’m sure, by the smell of popcorn in the microwave.  His excursion is in direct violation of quiet time rules.  He pokes his head around the corner before turning into the bathroom and calls out, “Save some popcorn for us!” 

“Ok, ok, I’ll make some more when you guys are done,” I reply. 

*   *   *  

This boy, our middle child, is the one who struggles the most with needing to know whether there will be enough, particularly of the good things in life.  Our bottoms barely connect with the chairs at the dinning room table before he’s asking about dessert.  Then, as the bowl of pudding or a cookie slides in front of him he anxiously asks, as though measuring his approach, whether seconds will follow. 

When he was about three he developed the habit of singing a little song any time he would get, for example, two cookies.  With complete seriousness and without making eye-contact he would sing, almost to himself as if unaware of my listening,

                        “Two is not enough,
                          two is not really much,
                          two is not enough.” 

Having had a daughter who simply accepted what she was given without question, I was completely at odds as to how I should respond to my son.  I chose to let it be and eventually the singing stopped and gave way to one or another equally frustrating habits as is the way with growing children. 

His song got me thinking, though, how often does my own heart sing a similar song?  Too often the paycheck, the wardrobe, the length of the day, you name it, it’s NOT enough.  I may not make a noise or move my lips, but there are days, weeks even, that I know for sure my heart's singing the song of "not enough."  If you listen carefully you can actually hear the drum beat of this song echoing nearly everywhere in the world around us.  It is, afterall, the song of the culture we live in, the song that drives consumerism to a fevered pitch. 

This song comes at a cost, though.  Whenever I sing it I implicitly reject the good things I do have in favor of some wildly imagined preferable alternative (in my son's case, perhaps 100 cookies would do the trick?).  I guess there isn’t much wrong with dreaming big, but if we’re not careful a continual habit of looking toward the horizon for bigger and better leaves us feeling more impoverished in the moment.  And the truth remains, that unless we actively cultivate the habit of gratitude in the moment, with what we do have, its unlikely that we'll be well-positioned to appreciate the bigger and better when or if it ever does come. 

What strikes me, too, is how my son sings his song alone, almost to himself.  If any of us are going to start singing a different song I imagine it’ll have to be a song with many parts, sung with friends who journey with us.  All of us experience times when we really don’t have enough of what it is we need most, whether it be food and clothing or love and hope.  It’s at times like this, times of true poverty, that we need others to carry the tune of another song for us and with us as we share a meal together, share stories and maybe even share our cookies.  

So let's make a pact, ok?  I'll listen carefully to my heart this week and you listen to yours too.  Whenever you hear me start singing to the tune of "not enough," you let me know, and I'll do the same for you.  Maybe we can start learning some new songs, like "thank you" and "wow" and "God is so good."



After waiting anxiously for it to arrive in the mail, I quickly finished the first book of assigned reading for Journey into Silence.  Short Trip to the Edge, by Scott Cairns is a spiritual memoir that tells of the author’s midlife crisis in which he’s struck by the realization that he doesn’t know how to pray.  The book traces the author’s steps as he travels to a Greek island heavily populated with ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries.  It's on Mt. Athos that Cairns endeavors to, over the course of a month or so, seek out a life of prayer and locate a spiritual father with whom he can continue correspondence. 

By the time of his adventure Cairns is in his mid-fifties, his children are all but grown and flown and he lives a life of academia, teaching writing and poetry at the university level.  I was a hopeful reader, expecting to like it, hoping to relate.  The cover picture was beautiful, the author’s description of his moment of awakening on a beach in the Chesapeake Bay compelling, but he lost me somewhere.  Probably right around the time that his journey into prayer led him to take off for Mount Athos, a small island of monasteries where women (including, even, female pets) are forbidden and children are scarce. 

At first blush, Cairns’ pilgrimage struck me as one born of too much privilege, which left me lacking in compassion for his journey.  It was, overall, discouraging – I simply don’t live the kind of life Cairns and his fellow-travelers live, on numerous levels.  This left me ranting to my husband, of course, then, later, led to this poem. 

Hardly ever – these days – a musket-packing
Puritan with buckles on his boots, a pilgrim is a person
who, confronted by a spiritual distance to be crossed,
determines to undertake that journey.
            - Scott Cairns, Short Trip to the Edge

If this is what a pilgrim is . . .

Thank you for sharing,
but I couldn’t help
but be discouraged
by the story of your trip
to an ancient Island in Greece,
where you waited for hours
to speak with holy men.
If this is what a pilgrim is,
then there’s little hope for one like me.

Here I sit, reading of your journey,
stranded on my own island of sorts,
my small house just as heavily populated, perhaps, as Mount Athos – 
per square foot that is.
Few men dare to travel here,
though they’re not forbidden.
(Tell a man you’re breastfeeding twins
and they’ll keep their distance of their own accord.)

As for hours of prayer uninterrupted,
these I do not have,
but I do have hours of cleaning and laundry,
which Brother Lawrence tells me may well be the same.
As for waking in the midnight hour for prayers and sacrament,
my nights are more often disturbed by children’s cries,
than the striking of a Semantron.* 
As for the Mysterian,** the Eucharist you receive,
I know no mystery in the midnight hour,
other than the power of presence to calm
a quaking child in a room heavy with darkness and fear. 
And dare I mention that nursing two bodies,
two souls, round the clock, is a sacrament in itself?

These are the rhythms of my days, the holy vigil I keep.
If I cannot find God here,
if the distance is truly as far as you think it is,
then what hope is there for me?

Then I remember
that I do find God here
in the midst,
in my lack of freedom and privilege,
in my tiny, cloister of a house.
And that, perhaps, you are more impoverished than I,
having to travel so far to find God. 

Also, it occurs to me,
that it’s possible a time will come,
when children are grown and gone
and the night hours are long and quiet
when God himself may not be so easily at hand.
Then, finding myself there, wouldn’t I also travel
wherever was needed to find him near again?

So then, maybe we two pilgrims
are not so far apart as first I feared we were.
After all, isn’t it only by grace that any of us find God at all? 

Travel safe my friend,
whether the road be long or short,
and may you know and be known by
the One who became a pilgrim
and traveled no short distance
to come to you.  

* a wooden board that is rhythmically struck to indicate an approaching time of common worship in Greek Orthodox monasteries like those found on Mt. Athos. 
** the preferred term for sacrament, particularly the Eucharist, in the Eastern church.

My desire to relate with Cairns as a reader and fellow pilgrim quickly turned into anger when, on the surface, I felt I couldn’t relate.  But later this poem, which started out as a rant listing the many divisions between us, became an invitation to look beyond the surface upon which our differences lay.  There I saw the deeper unity of a pilgrim’s heart.  Beneath the concrete details of Cairn journey, which the book is steeped in, I was able to see the deep loneliness, longing and desire shared by all those who forsake all else for the joy of knowing and being known. 

God moved me beyond the differences that divided to a more familiar place where Cairns and I could sit side-by-side discussing the distance we would both be willing to travel to find God near again.  In this way compassion moved me from anger and division to companionship of the soul, and isn’t this something of which we could all use a bit more?

So, dear pilgrim, travel safe my friend, whether the road be long or short, and may you know and be known by the One who became a pilgrim and traveled no short distance to come to you.  

"The Bright Field"

Oh, I'm tired.  I returned Sunday from a 48 hour retreat at Mariawald Retreat Center.  I hope to share more about the experience in the coming weeks, but for now, I'm tired.  Who knew there could be so much labor involved in retreat? 

My husband did an excellent job of holding down the fort, but I've spent the day cutting trails from room to room and working to get home and its inhabitants clean again.  Oh, and then there are the two suddenly sick children (again!), a trip to the Dr. today and one tomorrow, the coming monstrosity of a consignment sale, church meetings and an upcoming camping trip (from which the twins and I will be joyfully excluded).  And did I mention I have TWO thirteen month olds?  Ok, ok, I'm getting a little full of myself, but I'm sure you get the picture.  Now, where was I . . . oh yes, tired.     

Anyway, here's a little something I brought back from the retreat.  I was so pleased to find it there in the prepared reading packet as the story of the one who finds a treasure in a field and sells all they have to buy the field had become a sort of metaphor for me of this whole Oasis experience.  Enjoy! and keep your eyes and heart open - there are treasures everywhere!

"The Bright Field"

I have seen the light break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while
and gone my way
and forgotten it.
But that was the pearl
of great prize, the one field
that had treasure in it.
I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.
Life is not hurrying on
to a receeding future
nor hankering after an imagined past.
It is the turning aside
like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush.
To a brightness
that seems as transitory as your youth once,
but it is the eternity that awaits you.

- R.S. Thomas, quoted by John O'Donohue in Anam Cara

God Sews

The following post was accepted for publication by Sheloves/Magazine, where the voices and stories of women from all over the world are published every day.  You can start reading here, then click over to read the rest of the post.  Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *   *

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Genesis 3:21

*  *  *

My maternal grandmother was a garment worker.  She worked at a dress factory in North Carolina sewing on heavy, noisy machines, working so quickly that she sewed over her own fingers at times. She also sewed at home making clothes for my mother, things they couldn’t otherwise afford on my grandfather’s share cropper income. 

I like to imagine her working late into the night, piecing together bits of beauty and love, making out of scraps what could not be bought, clothing over, as best as she could, the shame of growing up poor and female on the edges of society.  Her sewing machine was kept cloistered in an unused room that housed other valuable items like the good dining room table.  This room was a holy of holies that I dared only to enter with caution.  I didn’t touch the heavy machine that, with the help of one women’s creativity and strength, could create something out of nothing.  

She made dresses for me too . . .   [click here to continue reading . . . ]

Doing the Foolish Thing (Choosing Oasis)

He is no fool
if he should choose
to give the thing he cannot keep
to buy what he can never loose
to see a treasure in one’s soul
that far outweighs the brightest gold
he is no fool. 
- He Is No Fool, Twila Paris

I don’t remember when I first laid eyes on it, maybe mid June or July?  All I know is that it glimmered light and refreshment, like a distant mirage in the middle of a barren dessert.  “Journey into Silence,”  a nine month pilgrimage in community and contemplation, offered through Oasis Ministries.  My soul lept within me, like John the Baptist in his mother’s womb when she came face to face with the one who’s womb carried the One. 

I quickly scanned the details, seeing how they matched up or not with the details of my life.  My hopes grew a little with each discovery, it’s local and held on Saturdays.  Travel costs – both time and money – would be low and my husband could stay with the kids, saving us from needing to pay for childcare.  I continued reading the pamphlet, taking it in in long cool gulps until, near the end, I came to the cost: $ 1000.  Gulp.

I went to the website, shared it on my facebook page, suggested it to friends, sent emails back and forth and had phone conversations trying to convince others it was a worth-while addition to their schedules.  Meanwhile that soul that had lept was impatiently waiting, banging on the bars of my heart, calling, “hello, hello, what about me?” 

Ah, that soul.  I started to notice the old warning signs of anger and resentment seeping out, welling up, like contaminated well-water.  First in tiny drips you'd hardly notice, the picking up to a steady stream.  “What’s this," I thought, "anger again?  And why am I so mad and fearful?”  These were followed by the usual temptations, the temptation to hide in work in particular; work as an escape, a salve, a drug, to numb the need for real beauty, real life, real refreshment. 

I listened to my soul, then ventured to share, first with a friend, then finally with my husband, “I keep telling everyone else about this program, but I think I’m the one who needs it.  (pause) Do you think we can afford it?” 

Thus begins the same long circuitous conversation about what I need that I’m not getting, the space I don’t have, the community my heart flourishes in and my concerns about the anger and resentments I see sprouting, spreading all around like the crabgrass in our flower beds.  “I want to make it work,” he says, “but I’m just not sure.”  I beg, I bargain, volunteering to give up my once a week childcare that's costly, but necessary.  We bring it to the dinning room table, sit down with the calculator, the bills, the budget sheet, the checkbook and savings.  It doesn’t look good. 
*   *   *   *   *   *
In high school I owned about five well-worn cassette tapes and a sweet see-through walkman with wires in neon and day-glow colors.  During my forty-five minute bus ride to school I sat hunched down between the hulking green slabs of pleather seating listening to Michael W. Smith and Twila Paris over and over again while others around me listened to Phish and Grateful Dead. 

I slid down into the seat, my long legs folded, knees pressing into the back of the seat in front of me, staring out the window at the passing world.  In the mornings I watched the sun rising over distant fields, the clouds low and heavy reflecting a reddish glow.  I couldn’t help but repeat to myself the rhyme, “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.”  I learned to read the signs. 

I feared the tapes would break as they sped, forward and back, coming to an abrupt halt when I pressed stop.  I nearly wore them out, fast forwarding, rewinding, listening, trying to convince myself beyond a doubt that I wasn’t a fool.  Trying to believe that what I wasn’t getting then was what I couldn’t keep anyways, trying to believe there was treasure in my soul, to convince myself I was not the fool I feared myself to be. 

*   *   *   *   *   *

I wrote my spiritual director and asked whether she thought the program would be a good fit and explained my financial concerns.  She replied, “Maybe you should think about whether it’s something you can afford NOT to do.” 

It was a question I was already asking myself, a question who's answer I already knew.

*   *   *   *   *   *

I've done a foolish thing.  I signed up for a program I can’t afford.  I don't know how it'll turn out, but I know what I need and I’m sticking to it and waiting to see how God will show up.  Within a day of deciding to apply a friend approached with a childcare opportunity, it fell through, but her asking was enough to remind me God always knows more ways to forge a stream in the desert than I can possibly imagine. Since then I've had at least four opportunities for extra income come my way and this reminds me to make my plans based on abundance, not scarcity, and then lean my back into the labor and waiting. 

I've made my choice to give the things I cannot keep to buy what I can never lose.  Don't tell anyone, but I've found a treasure in this old field and I'm running off, high-tailing it to go and sell everything I have so I can buy it.  And when I do, I'll dig a well there that reaches down into the depths of the cool, dark earth where the streams of life flow, hidden.  And there I'll drink in long steady gulps and be filled. 

When your soul starts banging on the bars of your heart, when it's parched and dry and withered, please do stop by, there's water enough to share.  Drink deep, gulp if you need to, let it run down your chin and neck and chest.  This water will never run out.     

Post Script: Since applying and writing this, the cost of this program has been more than covered.  I'm so thankful.  I hope to continue to write about my journey at Oasis, please do stop back to read more and consider visiting their website to see if their programming might interest you!

Bugs (BONUS!): Learning to See

This fellow lived on a potted plant on our porch one summer.

The husband and four year old have been desperate to catch a Praying Mantis, so much so that I was praying we might find one on our walk after lunch today (my ulterior motive was that I wanted to be the one to find the coveted bug, not Daddy, so perhaps there was good reason for God to neglect that prayer).  But, alas, nothing was found, except this little poem . . .  Enjoy!

The Blind Receive Sight (along the edge of a field)

You cannot find a Praying Mantis by praying for it,
believe me, I’ve tried. 
It’s not that they aren’t there, I suppose,
but rather, I lack the eyes to see them. 

Before today I couldn’t have found a grasshopper
unless it sprang across my path, brushing against my arm or leg.
But today I spent an hour looking, with my son,
and soon I was seeing them too,
brown or green with hints of yellow,
clinging to a blade of grass in a field of grasses.

I trained my eyes to look
and they began to see
(not to mention that I was
in the company of an expert seer,
as all children are known to be).

Tonight on our walk after dinner, guess who finally found a praying mantis?!  That's right!  And, my reward is that it's now living in an aquarium in the kids' room, at least I hope it's still in the aquarium . . . 
Want to read more posts in this series?  Click here and scroll down.

Bugs (pt. 3): Cicadas Sing and I Listen

This is the third in a three-part series of posts on bugs.  Don't miss the first two!

                                    This is a picture of a cicada that's just emerged from its old
                                    shell.  It's one of the freakiest things you will ever see.  (Posting
                                    this made me want to throw-up a little.) 

[Deep sigh. Here’s the thing – the bugs are beginning to speak to me too. And I’m starting to listen, starting to pull up my chair to watch as they perform their dance of living and birthing and dying all the while joining their song to the on-going song of creation. (from Bugs pt.2)]

Here’s what the cicadas have shown me through their crumbly shells, their large silvery-green winged bodies, their desperate pulsing song. These bugs are formed in darkness, their eggs buried deep in the dark, cool belly of the earth. It's a necessary darkness, a fruitful one, like the womb in which we are all formed and grown. These bugs, like the psalmist says of us, are “made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Ps 139:15).

It’s there in dank darkness that they wait. Waiting, some for as long as seventeen years, as they’re being formed into what they are not yet, but will be, with time. Do they get antsy waiting, I wonder? I know they’re not sentient beings, but it’s worth consideration, how they endure the wait. Maybe something in them, something ancient, tells them that waiting is what’s needed, like the child in the womb who doesn’t begin to push and strain downward until the time is right, who knows nothing but the present.

One day as I’m reading to my kids about these terrible-wonderful bugs the words grow large on the page, ripe with meaning, a line of poetry in the midst of all the scientific details, “they feed on the roots of trees.” Cicadas are nourished in the darkness by the deep, web-like roots of the trees their parents mated in. If you didn’t already believe God's a poet, surely this one fact would in and of itself convince you.

They're formed in darkness, knit together and fed by the deep roots of others until the time comes for them to crawl, push, climb upward, outward toward the light and air and sun. Picture them, these ancient skeletal beings poking out of the green blades of grass, the crumbling dark dirt alive with its own ecosystem. They emerge and continue climbing up trees and fenceposts, up anything that will continue their ascent for their desire, their drive, is to move upward toward light and life and the multiplication of life.

They climb, intuitively straining until the straining causes a cracking, a pulling open as their new life becomes too much for the old shell, the old protective husk, to bear. Then they break free, burst out, shedding the skin that held them, formed them, in the belly of the earth. The new rubbery green body hardens. The wings unfurl and they take flight. And this is when the singing begins as they add their voices to the chorus; the humming, buzzing, rising and falling on-going song of light and life that comes from death. The song of roots that feed, the song of waiting, the song of breaking through to the light.

Who would’ve thought that a creature borne in darkness would grow wings, take flight, lift their voices to join the on-going song of creation? But isn’t this the reality? Isn’t this what the lives of cicadas tell us and the butterflies too that kindergarteners everywhere observe in their sticky, smelly classrooms, the worm that becomes the beauty?

How can I watch this, hear this song all around me and not be changed by it? How can I help but be convinced of its truth? To me the cicadas speak hope, sing hope. Hope for the ones who willingly and unwillingly have fallen to the ground and died, like the grain of wheat, as the gospel admonishes. Hope for those who wait in darkness and wonder if, when, they too will emerge like Lazarus. Like Lazarus who heard an ancient voice calling, “Come forth,” and who came out wrapped in those old heavy, smelly clothes, that old skin that could no longer hold the new life within.

*   *   *   *   *   *

By some miracle of chance and perseverance, my son catches a monarch and holds it in his hands while dancing and running and shouting for his sister to get the trap so he, so they, can keep it, this prize of nature. Then, just like that, as she runs and he glows and my husband and I stand slack-jawed with joy and awe, the butterfly breaks free and floats off into the puff-clouded blue sky. As we watch it fly, as we watch all of them flying, crawling, spinning, buzzing, we are changed. How can you not be changed, how can a boy not be changed by holding, even for the briefest moment, a bit of the fluttering, flitting glory of God in his hands?