Most folk don’t take nearly enough time to notice it. These days way too much ugliness hides the beauty that’s always around us. Even when we don’t pay attention, beauty surprises us with magic and mystery. Beauty is a lot like hope.
The magical appearance of beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. For me, beauty can inspire me by color and movement, by the shimmering stars on a clear night, by the magnificence of a tree’s movement in the breeze, by looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Beauty is there for us always—to be seen, to be heard, to be sensed deeply in our bodies and in our spirits.
These days, I need more of it—more hope, more beauty. I need more visions of beauty to supersede the ugliness of injustice, division, racism, misogyny, homophobia, political warring, brokenhearted immigrants looking for life, mass shootings, Covid, gun violence, child trafficking, suffering in Ukraine—all the varied chaos around the world.
And then there are the people here and there who bring grace to us all by transforming ugliness into beautyand hope.
As for the beauty revealed in the opening photo, I don’t know who created it or photographed it. I do know that he or she is a person who finds beauty in unlikely places at unexpected times, and translates that beauty into grace to be shared with those who most need it.
Who knows about that image? The striking silhouette of the trees, the birds flying above, the twinkling stars in the sky, and all of that with swirls of color that seem to me like holy movement. Regardless of the source of that photograph, I like to believe that its beauty—all beauty—comes directly from God as grace for me, and for you.
This is the time of year for celebrating trees as they put on their autumn display. Enchanted forests transform into even more magical places in this season. It can be pure glory to watch the vibrancy of fall. So I’m thinking about trees today, but I’m thinking of them with a bit of nostalgia. Several months ago our landlord had my favorite tree cut down to the ground—all the way with nothing left but a stump and an ugly, sawdust-looking mess. I was angry. I still am. The problem was the tree’s roots endangering the foundation of the house.
For me, the peril of the house’s foundation was not a significant concern. My concern was simply losing a “friend.” When we first moved into our house in Macon, I began photographing the tree, almost every day for a year, to capture its fascinating life cycle. I took photos of the leaves and the limbs and the bark, and found the tree’s transitions to be fascinating. In that time, I became attached to my Chinese Tallow tree with its beautiful leaves.
Scroll left to see a brief slideshow of a few of those Chinese Tallow photos.
Just a few months after I lost my tallow tree, a large limb in our enchanting backyard forest succumbed to heavy winds and fell to the ground, just missing our house. Behind our house, by the way, is a small forest. The forest is dense, with very large, tall trees providing a lush canopy, smaller trees providing a shorter canopy, and even smaller shrub-like trees and bushes filling in the rest. Sunlight peeks in through small areas of the thick canopy, but not enough to breach the dense foliage underneath. The forest provided shade for us, cool breezes in that part of our yard, nesting birds and small creatures, pleasant forest noises of rustling leaves and creaking limbs—natural beauty.
So, back to the limb that fell down in our forest. The landlord arrived with a small work crew to remove the limb and clean up. The small crew created big chaos in our little forest. The landlord asked them to go ahead and cut down the entire huge tree that had lost the one limb. Down came that tree. And another, and another, and another, leaving behind scarred, dusty, devastated earth. It hurt my heart. I could not look at it for several hours, as my husband described the desolation of our once-enchanting forest. Eventually, I went with him to the backyard. I could barely look at it. A lump rose up in my throat followed by anger that asked how humans dare to cut down large, living trees that may have been alive for a hundred years or more. Who gives us humans the right to do that?
I know that plenty of things (and people) harm trees. Lethal threats come in many forms: windstorms, ice storms, lightning strikes, wildfires, droughts, floods, a host of constantly evolving diseases, swarms of voracious insects.
Tender young seedlings are easily consumed by grazing mammals. Hostile fungi are a constant menace, waiting to exploit a wound, or a weakness, and begin devouring a tree’s flesh. But there is one predator whose acts are unforgivable. That predator is a human who is intent on cutting down breathing, oxygen-creating, life-giving trees.
Research tells us that the trees known as “mother trees” are a vital defense against many of these threats. When the biggest, oldest trees are cut down in a forest, the survival rate of younger trees is substantially diminished.
For young saplings in a deeply shaded part of the forest, the network of trees is literally a lifeline. Lacking the sunlight to photosynthesize, they survive because big trees pump sugar into their roots through the network.
At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Suzanne Simard and her grad students are making astonishing new discoveries about the sensitivity and interconnectedness of trees. Her research described the concept of “mother trees,” which she describes as the biggest, oldest trees in the forest with the most fungal connections. She says that the trees are not necessarily female, but she sees them performing a nurturing, supportive, maternal role. With their deep roots, they draw up water and make it available to shallow-rooted seedlings. They help neighboring trees by sending them nutrients, and when the neighbors are struggling, mother trees detect their distress signals and increase the flow of nutrients accordingly.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, especially if what I’m saying sounds unbelievable to you. Instead, I point you to an article published in The Smithsonian Magazinewebsite, where I gleaned the scientific information for this blog post.
Journalist Richard Grant begins his article in The Smithsonian Magazine with an intriguing question: Do Trees Talk to Each Other? The controversial German forester, Peter Wohlleben, says yes, and his ideas are shaking up the scientific world.
Richard Grant writes, “My guide here is a kind of tree whisperer. Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. Wohlleben has devoted his life to the study and care of trees.”
Grant goes on to explain . . .
Now, at the age of 53, Wohlleben has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada.
— Richard Grant
“Some are calling it the ‘wood-wide web,’” says Wohlleben. “All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”
Grant continues . . .
Wohlleben takes me to two massive beech trees growing next to each other. He points up at their skeletal winter crowns, which appear careful not to encroach into each other’s space. “These two are old friends,” he says. “They are very considerate in sharing the sunlight, and their root systems are closely connected. In cases like this, when one dies, the other usually dies soon afterward, because they are dependent on each other.”
– Richard Grant
One can only be mesmerized by this botanical research that gives a “human quality” to trees and makes forests even more enchanting to us.
. . . majestic crowns approaching one another make a glorious canopy, through the feathery arches of which the sunbeams pour, silvering the needles and gilding the stately columns and the ground into a scene of enchantment. —John Muir*
Enchanted forests, trees that talk with one another, connectedness between trees—is it science or fantasy? Scientists are only just beginning to learn the language of trees. They admit that most of the time they don’t know what the trees are saying with pheromones. They don’t know how exactly how the trees communicate within their own bodies. They don’t have nervous systems, but they can still feel what’s going on, and experience something analogous to pain. Another plant scientist, Allen Larocque, says, “When a tree is cut, it sends electrical signals like wounded human tissue.”
Perhaps I should just end with these provocative words by John Muir:
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.
I have always been drawn to honeybees, mesmerized by them and by the beekeepers who care for them. Once many years ago, I put on the beekeepers garb and that big, fashionable hat with the dark veil of netting. A friend who had several hives was teaching me how to handle the bees. I actually held them in my hands, rather hesitantly, while noticing how gently the beekeeper held them. From this uncomfortably close proximity, I was able to listen to the buzzing sound of the honeybees, buzzing that I did not hear as harsh, but rather hushed. The honeybees greeted him when he approached the hive. When he held them in his hands and they moved up his arms, it looked like a graceful dance of the beekeeper and his constantly moving honeybees totally in sync with one another. How could one not be enchanted by this wonder of creation?
Yesterday while reading a fascinating interview with Tom Blue Wolf, I was reminded of those breathtaking moments I spent with the honeybees. Tom is a descendant of the AniCoosa, which means “peaceful people,” who are also known as the Creek Tribe, which is a part of the Muscogee Nation. He is a Native American spiritual guide, a man in love with nature, and a keeper of honeybees. One of the questions he was asked in the interview was, “What is it like to be in the presence of the bees, to listen to them?” This is how Tom Blue Wolf responded.
Creator is always talking to us. Most of us are about seven echoes away from the true voice of the Creator. Try to get closer, try to get maybe three echoes away. If you get too close, it’s almost too intense for most people. Like a burning bush. Aaaaah!
His response to the follow-up question was just as intriguing . . .
“What do you and the bees do for each other on the spiritual journey?
How is your relationship to them a spiritual one?”
They give life, and we protect it. We keep the harm away from them; we protect them. I have been in love with honeybees all my life . . . We beekeepers are integral to the bees’ world. They know us; they are in our dreams. We tend to them barefoot, they crawl all over us, they kiss us, they tickle us. It’s hard to talk about. So, of course we think it’s spiritual. Absolutely. The bees love us and we love them.
That kind of spiritual relationship between a human being and one of God’s created inhabitants of the earth would place any of us in a sacred space. Tom Blue Wolf described a state of being as “three echoes away from the true voice of the Creator.” It’s the kind of space most of us never enter, and for so many reasons—we don’t have time; we’re busy with our jobs; we have children to care for, laundry to do, and a plethora of responsibilities listed on the to-do list we seldom complete. We simply get too busy to embrace the beauty of nature and draw closer to the Creator.
Tom Blue Wolf would summon us, if he could, to be “three echoes away” from God’s true voice. So he writes about the Creator, the creation and the importance of protecting it, and our role as caretakers. He urges humans to follow the guidelines of Saint Francis, who thought it critical to have a close and enduring relationship with nature.
From the years I spent as a postulant in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, I learned about the many ways Saint Frances was devoted to the best characteristics of what it means to be a human being on the planet: benevolent, loving, kind, gentle, merciful, reverent, respectful. He treated every life form with dignity.
Saint Francis helps us pull ourselves out of the trap of being completely focused on two-legged humans. An example of that shows how most people describe a destructive incident only be the impact it has on humans. They might report, for instance, that a plane crashed and “we lost 180 people.” Or “the fire killed four hundred people.” In contrast, Saint Francis would say, “Not only did we lose four hundred brothers and sisters, but we also lost three thousand acres of Mother Earth’s flesh. We lost sixty-four thousand winged ones. We lost untold amounts of water, and what’s left is toxic and the ones that swim are no longer with us.”
Like Saint Frances, perhaps we should focus more of our attention on the natural world, the magnificent creation given to us by the Creator God we worship. For one thing, attention to the creation and its Creator draws us into holy moments that we desperately need for our spiritual nurture. If we lean into those holy moments, and linger there for a time, the burdens we carry could become lighter. The cares that dishearten us might become uncommonly dim. And we just might find ourselves in a most sacred space—the one that places us “three echoes away” from God’s whisper. And as an added grace, perhaps we will also hear the gentle buzz of honeybees!
It’s my most common statement these days: ”Have a nice trip!” Saying it to my friends is the polite thing to do, given that I am landlocked in my house. And to my credit, I really mean it when I say it. I really do wish them a nice trip—fun and relaxing and safe and an experience of all things good.
At the same time, my heart is always just a little shattered when someone I know embarks on a summer adventure. It makes me long for times past when my family took amazing vacations to Disney World or Sea World, to the ocean or to the mountains, to Oregon, Seattle, or Vancouver, or Gatlinburg, or Nevada, or San Francisco, New Orleans, Reno, Nashville, Nairobi, Mombasa, Athens, Mexico . . . I can’t even remember all the places. “Those were the days,” I’ve heard it said. And so they were!
Today is a very different reality. Travel is harder, for so many reasons, and being confined to home has a host of repercussions. I have experienced many of those repercussions, physical ones, spiritual ones and emotional ones. Immediately after my kidney transplant in 2019, Covid-19 descended upon us. After that, I accepted my personal reality of taking immunosuppressant medications for the rest of my life to prevent organ rejection. That personal reality meant that, no matter the lifting of mask mandates and the full re-opening of everything, I had no immune system to fight Covid or any other infection. And that means forever!
When everyone around me seems free, and carefree, I feel imprisoned. I admit, it has taken an emotional toll on me. It still does affect my sense of freedom, safety, loneliness, boredom, isolation, creativity—the things that fill your soul. I have tried hard and long for three years to stay active and creative and never to feel bored. But I have reached a kind of stasis, worn out from ”keeping busy” and from pushing myself to be productive, creative and happy.
My husband asked me yesterday if I’m depressed. I almost said, “no” before the truth hit me. I haven’t seen my son and grandchildren for two years. I haven’t seen my Atlanta cousins since November. I haven’t seen most of my friends in months. So, yes, I suppose I am depressed, though I so want to push it away by denying it.
Depression has its own trajectory. Most of the time, I just have to ride it out and wait for better days. In the meantime, to all of you travelers out there: Have a nice trip!
I don’t like feeling melancholy. The feeling is just too tentative and unspecific. Trying to get free of melancholia is not an easy feat. You can curse it and yank it around trying to break it. You can throw big rocks at it or try to drown it in a bathtub. But it is so uncatchable. You can’t get your hands around it, and if you do, you can’t hold on to it. It just slips away from you before you know it. You cannot control melancholia. Perhaps you cannot even get consolation from it.
Other states of mind are more responsive to being removed or conquered or broken or even thrown out. Sadness, anger, rage—those you can eventually grab and choke out. Melancholia is enduring and constant, and it can hold you hostage for undetermined amounts of time, making a nest in you and dwelling there without your permission. Relentless, hardy, pervasive, persistent!
Understand this: I am not writing about melancholia as a clinical depressive episode and I’m certainly not trying to scientifically classify melancholia in a range of psychiatric disorders. I simply mean to unravel the threads of the state of being of feeling trapped inside melancholia.
I know there are circumstances that brought me here this week, not the least of which is that I have experienced a full week of a severe stomach virus. And then, there is the constant news reporting of horrible cases of gun violence. In fact, ABC News published this troubling statement about gun violence on May 31, 2022: “374 deaths and 782 injuries over the past week.”
I cannot help but weep about the terrible loss of nineteen children, two teachers, one teacher’s husband, and the perpetrator of the murders in #Uvalde, Texas.
I cannot help but be emotionally moved by the gift a Texas man gave the grieving families.Trey Ganem refused to be paid for the 19 hand-painted caskets. (Picture: SoulShine Industries)
Have these circumstances resulted in my feeling melancholy? I’m not sure. Melancholia might not primarily be situational. Rather, it might be embedded in a person’a psyche and brought to the heart by a gloomy, cold morning in winter, or a long-lived rainstorm, or a gloomy, foggy night without a smidgen of light. Perhaps melancholia can come upon a person by a sad movie, by hearing a hauntingly beautiful requiem, by the melodic strains of birdsong, or the somber sounds of a viola.
Melancholia is rather unexplainable for me. When it takes over my psyche from time to time, I feel multiple emotions. Not just a depression-like sadness, but also a lump-in-the-throat nostalgic feeling. I think that’s what’s going on with me right now. Truthfully, I have found the best description of melancholia in the words of Leo Tolstoy.
There is something so enchanting in the smile of melancholy. It is a ray of light in the darkness, a shade between sadness and despair, showing the possibility of consolation.
— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
It does feel to me like ”a shade between sadness and despair.” Whatever melancholy is, however it comes to me, whatever it feels like and whenever it visits me, I like Tolstoy’s phrase about melancholy ”showing the possibility of consolation.” In my mind, that is the Godsend part of it: that when I feel the emotion “between sadness and despair,” covered in a misty veil of melancholy, God’s holy way is that consolation is always possible. Always!
The Apostle Paul has the last word in the beautiful blessing he wrote to the church in Corinth:
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
How would you feel about a phrase like, war against children? Virtually no one would like such a phrase, but isn’t that exactly what happens when someone bursts into a school brandishing an AK-15 assault rifle? When someone uses a weapon to kill children inside a school room, and when a nation refuses to change its culture of weapons and bullets, then we need to own it: America wages and perpetuates war against children!
The total lack of regulation of firearms and ammunition in America is the source of the shooting that held nineteen children and two teachers hostage in a classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in the hands of a murderer. The ultimate ”perpetrator” could be called the National Rifle Association (NRA), the group who promotes the idolatry of lethal weapons. Protesters at the site of the NRA’S National Convention this weekend were joined by Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who listed previous school shootings and called on those attending the convention to make sure that gun violence would no longer harm children in this country.
“The time to have stopped Uvalde was right after Sandy Hook,” O’Rourke said. “The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Parkland. The time for us to have stopped Uvalde was right after Santa Fe High School. The time for us to stop the next mass shooting in this country is right now, right here, today with every single one of us.”
Gun violence in schools is not a national scourge in every country. There are examples of gun control our nation could follow if we had the passion and political will to do so. A case in point . . .
About a month after the Parkland school shooting, a letter of condolence addressed to the survivors arrived from survivors and parents who had endured a similar tragedy 22 years before when a local shopkeeper walked into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and opened fire, killing 16 five and six-year-olds and their teacher.
Writing the letter to Parkland survivors was a act of solidarity. Offering hope for change, they told of their successful campaign for gun reform. They wrote, “Laws were changed, handguns were banned and the level of gun violence in Britain is now one of the lowest in the world.”
Since the 1996 Dunblane massacre, they said, “there have been no more school shootings in the United Kingdom.” Because of a grassroots campaign led by the parents of Dunblane students, leaders in the U.K took decisive legislative action. By the end of 1997, Parliament had banned private ownership of most handguns, enacted a semi-automatic weapons ban, and implemented mandatory registration for shotgun owners.
The signees ended with words of encouragement, “Wherever you march, whenever you protest, however you campaign for a more sensible approach to gun ownership, we will be there with you in spirit.”
Here in “the land of the free,” we have become callous to gun violence. We hear of mass shootings on streets, in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques, and we move on. We are becoming immune to shootings in night clubs, stores, shopping malls, military bases, restaurants, theaters and homes.
Violence inside schools, though, is on a higher, more lethal level. People who grapple with making sense of school shootings strain to come up with “reasons” that such heinous acts of violence could happen. People choose to go into restaurants, clubs and theaters, but children in school classrooms are mandated to be there.
War against children.
Do we dare look at the list of school shootings since 1969? I studied the list today, lamented over it, I guess. There were fourteen school massacres that left 169 dead children.
After every single incident, people cry, “enough is enough.” After every horrific mass murder, lawmakers and power brokers say, “enough is enough.” And then comes the question, “Why?” Why is this violence happening? The following answers for “why”—some goodand some preposterous—emerge from the national dialogue.
mental health problems; delinquent youth out of control; inattentive parents leaving guns accessible to children; weapons and ammunition too easy to get; untrained resource officers. It’s because the adults in the schools don’t have guns. They need guns.
Franklin Graham blamed school shootings on “a nation that has turned its back on God,” and on violent video games, the entertainment industry and on “taking God out of our schools.” James Dobson blamed the shooting at Sandy Hook on God’s wrath over abortion and same-sex marriage.
War against children.
This is a sad season, but it is also a sad time for Christianity. Just days after the tragic slaughter of innocent children and their teachers, the National Rifle Association meets in national conference to celebrate themselves only 300 miles away from Robb Elementary in Uvalde. Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood name it and explain it in a recent article published in A Public Witness.
“Even after Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, and now Robb Elementary — not to mention the numerous other mass shootings at churches, theaters, concerts, restaurants, grocery stores, homes, and basically any other place in our society — some Christian leaders still try to baptize the death cult that will gather in Texas this weekend.”
Shane Claiborne, co-author of Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence, criticizes pastors who “bless this group that is literally contradicting nearly every word of the Sermon on the Mount.” He continues, ”I’m going to go straight to Jesus and say we cannot serve two masters. And we really are at a crossroads where we’ve got to choose: Are we going to follow Jesus or the NRA? And literally, you couldn’t come up with much more contrasting messages. The gospel of Jesus — turn the other cheek, love our enemies — stands in direct opposition to the rhetoric of the NRA — stand your ground. The gun and the cross give us two very different versions of power.”
His words are true, as are words written by Dr. Obery Hendricks in his recent book, Christians Against Christianity. He writes a fiery epithet about what he describes as “the unholy alliance between right-wing evangelicals and the NRA. Their annual prayer breakfast,” Hendrick’s writes, ”tries to add a veneer of Christian religiosity to the NRA’s deadly agenda.”
In the article in A Public Witness, Kaylor and Underwood describe ”the NRA’s Hell” in scathing commentary. ”As the blood of more slaughtered children cries out from the ground, preparations continue for this weekend’s NRA convention.”
War against children.
There is no lack of commentary following the terror at Robb Elementary School. Stephen Reeves, executive director of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Southwest, also criticized Christian leaders who bless the NRA, saying, “I don’t know how you pray in the name of the Prince of Peace and ask for God’s blessings on the mission of the NRA. No other country sacrifices their children on the altar of the gun.”
Yet, the prophets and the mourners somehow coalesce this weekend, in solidarity with one another regarding weapons of war and slaughter. While a Texas community mourns grievous loss, righteous prophetic critics stand on their behalf to call out sin, complacency, greed, self-interest and idolatry and those who champion the evil of it. ”As our children are killed at the altar of a semiautomatic idol,” Kaylor and Underwood write, ”high priests like Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Jonathan Falwell help the NRA damn us all to this hell.”
Meanwhile surviving parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members and friends are oblivious to the rhetoric, to the NRA, and to anyone or anything else. Theirs is to mourn, to keep vigil over the memories of the children, and I suppose, to continue asking, ”why.” Why did this happen? Why in our school? Why did it have to take my child?
The “why” questions? Could the answer be because America is waging war against children? The ”why questions” are literally unanswerable, no matter how long we sit before them waiting for answers, for reasons. Some cataclysms have no reasons or explanations, at least none that are worth anything. One needn’t ask ”why” to pure evil, but must instead try to ease beyond ”why” to a more answerable question.
Still, getting beyond “why” brings another question that hovers over us like an ominous cloud: “What can I do about it?”
That is the question that remains. It pierces us. It drives the conversations we have and the prayers we pray.
“What can I do about it?” I can only answer with possibilities to consider. Here are a few.
Make a commitment to stand courageously against violence in the ways you are able.
Become an informed activist, aware enough to help influence the passage of legislation that protects children.
Communicate constantly with members of Congress, by phone, letter, email, text. Go to their webpages and keep on prodding them to do right.
When your activism seems small, know that it helps wage the big war against violence.
Be open to acts of tenderness. Hold a mourner in your arms, when they feel nothing and when their crying will not stop.
Many parents of the Texas children are in in shock, in trauma-induced silence. Without voice, without tears, without any emotion at all. It will be a while before they can make any audible expression of grief.
Other parents are crying uncontrollably. They will cry at the funeral home, in the church, in the graveyard, at the store, in their beds in the night. Their bodies will literally shake as grief pours out from their deepest places. It will be a while before they can stop crying.
Most of us, in fact, cannot stop crying when we see and absorb this war against children or begin to grasp the utter senseless evil of it.
In my work as a victim advocate and trauma counselor, I was present with those who were trapped in silence and with those who could not stop crying. That was the thing I could do, and after the crying, being with them in marches and sit-ins or just for a cup of coffee. In a 2021 article for The Trace, Journalist Ann Givens interviewed me about my victim advocacy and my activism to end violence. She asked me about God, about how God responds to us in a crisis to help us move beyond trauma while we are still facing so much suffering. This was my response:
“God is a God of peace. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God helps us take the deep, excruciating emotions that come with bad things, and do something with them.”
In the very middle of this war against children, can we take our powerful, intense emotions and do something even more powerful? Can we persevere until the war against children is over and we can see the bright hope of children lying down with a lion and a lamb in places of peace and safety?
May God empower us to say, “Yes, we can!” and fill us to overflowing with a living hope that empowers us to say, ”Yes, we will!”
Rev. Kathy Manis Findley May 26, 2022
Please take a few moments of prayer and meditation to listen to this song, PreciousChild. Precious Child – Words & Music by Karen Taylor Good
Most of you, maybe all of you, are past Covid-19 mandated restrictions. You are going out to eat, going to theaters, going to church, going to school, to ballgames, reunions, pools, parties and most every place you want to go—unmasked!
“Finally,” you say to yourself, “it’s way past the time of staying locked up! We’re free!” And everyone celebrates, ”No more masking! No more isolating! Just the sun and the sky and a bright and shiny future!”
Congratulations! You have broken out of this terrible Covid isolation. In doing so, you have abandoned about 7 million of us who are so immunocompromised, we must wait here in isolation until it is safe for us to break free. Our Covid isolation time is indeterminable because it’s based on so many unknown factors—the Covid trajectory itself, the level of immunosuppression a person has, other health problems and the age of the person, the availability of antibody medications, vaccines and boosters. AND does this person have even one antibody?
As for me (a kidney transplant patient taking massive doses of immunosuppressive medications), after two Covid vaccines and two boosters, my antibody tests revealed that I have zero (0) antibodies! So the very minute all the people threw their masks in the trash, I was abandoned in this unpredictable world of the indomitable, evolving Covid-19 virus and all of its 772 variants, including double and triple mutant variants.
I could not help but feel abandoned. No sooner than I could safely go unmasked after my kidney transplant, the pandemic descended and the mask returned to my Covid wardrobe. I am now a three-year mask wearer.
But there’s more . . . for me and 7 million other immunosuppressed people in this country. I spend time on several Facebook transplant support groups. So while I certainly do not know the experience of 7 million people, I do know literally hundreds of transplant patients through dialogue on various online platforms.
Here’s what I mean: group conversations on Facebook and Zoom patient support groups, dozens of them every month! In those conversations, I have heard the voices of confusion, despair, isolation, anger, frustration, indecision, fear, uncertainty . . . The people are saying things like this:
They keep telling us that some masks are not effective. What kind should we use? Where do we get them? When do we wear them? How? Where should we wear them? What if others don’t wear them?
We can’t find out whether or not we should get the vaccine—how manydoses? How many boosters? When to get them? Where to get them?
Doctors don’t know, hospitals don’t know, pharmacies don’t know! Even my transplant center doesn’t know.
Wow, there’s this medication that has been authorized for emergency use for immunocompromised persons! It’s called Evusheld! It is not a vaccine, it’s antibodies, real antibodies because we don’t have any!
EVUSHELD? I can’t find it. What does it do?My doctor never heard of it! I found some three hours from here, but they don’t have the okay to give ityet.
I flew across the country and finally got some. No one knows what dose they’re supposed to give. My transplant center doesn’t have it and they don’t know if they will get some. I have searched the internet in every state and can’t find it. Now that the public is not wearing masks, we need it, and we need it now before we contract Covid! There’s a website that lists every facility in the US and how many doses they received. You could call and see if you might get an appointment. I found a place that didn’t even know they had any, but they called around and got permission to give it.
All these sentiments, and more, reveal to me that those of us who have no or low immunity are abandoned in isolation limbo, while the rest of the people have broken free to resume a normalcy of life that is unavailable to the rest of us.
Think about us, the 7 million who can’t go with you to a movie or a restaurant. Pray for our safety. Pray for the our well-being that’s harmed by the continuing angst of isolation we are in. Send us positive thoughts. We’ll do the same for you, and hope you never have to say, ”Oh, the places I’ve been! I should have worn a mask.”
And may all of us hope for better, brighter, safer days from Covid, from gun violence, from hate crimes and mass shootings, from abuse, from environmental toxicity and natural disasters, from war, from domestic terrorism and from the dismantling of the civil rights and human rights we hold inviolable.
And may it soon be said of all of us, ”Oh, the places you’ll go!”
How true it is that when we know nights of sorrow, when weeping is all we can muster, that daybreak does eventually come as it always has. And with the rising of the sun, perhaps our tears are replaced with at least some measure of inner joy.
The universe is wide and wondrous, full of love, full of grace, and sparked by freedom. Those three—love, grace and freedom—are the things we most need, all of us.
I offer you this meditation, praying that you are surrounded in love, that you know the grace that accepts every part of yourself, and that you feel the the freedom to run with the wind in wide and wondrous places, toward your dreams.
As you continue the quiet time you claim for yourself today, I hope you will be be inspired and comforted by this beautiful choral piece by the brilliant composer Elaine Hagenberg, ”All Things New.”
Poem by Frances Havergal and text adapted from Revelation 21:5-6
Light after darkness, gain after loss Strength after weakness, crown after cross; Sweet after bitter, hope after fears Home after wandering, praise after tears
Alpha and Omega Beginning and the end He is making all things new Springs of living water Shall wash away each tear He is making all things new Sight after mystery, sun after rain Joy after sorrow, peace after pain; Near after distant, gleam after gloom Love aftеr wandering, life after tomb
I write about sacred space a lot. I struggle to create sacred space a lot. I rest in sacred space . . . not so much. Certainly not enough. I confess that I, as a person who claims to cherish sacred space, can rarely find it. I must also confess that I need it. Yet, that space where I am tranquil, not agitated and troubled, is elusive to me. As some folk put it, “I’m staying busy!” Too busy!
Sacred space is different for every person. Each person will know her/his sacred space intuitively, and by faith. Mine would be under a tree with spreading, low hanging branches or walking my own garden labyrinth.
Your sacred space may be beside the seashore, a place where you find calm, peace, or the ”silence” of the ever-moving ocean. Or you may not require a particular place at all, just a state of mind and an open spirit. If you long for a place of solace, inspiration, or re-creation, you will eventually create a sacred space, either a place that nature has created, a holy place that you have found, or a place you create in your own home. You will know the place, because you will sense what it is doing for your body and soul. Still, you won’t necessarily have to find your sacred space. Your sacred space may find you. And if you have only a few moments each day, make it your sacred pause.
Your sacred space may be beside the seashore, a place where you find calm, peace, or the ”silence” of the ever-moving ocean.
Do not strain to see where your sacred space is or what it should look like. A sacred space has many faces, many facets and dimensions.
Imagine . . .
Once you find your sacred space, spend time there. You may choose to redecorate a quiet place in your home, build something in your garden that can center your thoughts, or find a quiet, beautiful place nearby that you can get to frequently and easily. As for what you do in your sacred space . . . well that will be as varied as the different spaces people choose.
Pray, breathe, sing, meditate, sit in holy silence—whatever you are moved to do is your own sacred moment—a very personal sacred moment. There is, however, one bit of wisdom that seems important—words from Joseph Campbell: “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.”
I have taken many trails throughout my life and I imagine that you have as well. It’s one of the things all of us have in common. The trails we take can sometimes lead us to places unknown. Not just places on a map, but places in the soul. Our more difficult trails can push us to our limits, mostly the limits of the soul at its depth. Sometimes, today maybe, my soul is in the depths of unknowing.
What does that sentence even mean? My soul is in the depths of unknowing? If I don’t know what that means, how can I possibly talk about it with you? I can try!
I’ll try. I’ll search for words that explain how I feel, how my soul feels and what it means — the depth of unknowing.
These days I sense an unease in my soul, in its depths. I have named it depression. I have tried in vain to make an appointment with my therapist. Isn’t that what people do when they are depressed? Anyway, I did that, but cannot see her until the end of July. So I determined that I had to become my own therapist. In doing that, I decided to search myself more deeply. I determined that perhaps what I feel isn’t depression after all. Instead, what I feel may be the depth of unknowing.
For me that means chasing away the unknowing, getting rid of it because I want to know when I will feel stronger physically, or when I will see my grandchildren, or how I will handle my emotional fragility, or where I will live for the rest of my life. Just to name a few things I need to know.
And yet, the depth of the soul’s unknowing may well be exactly where my soul begins to fully know. The trails I take while inside my soul’s depths contain lessons and treasures and wisdom. The trails bend and wind leading to an unknown path that opens its way for me. I follow it willingly, blindly, yet for some reason, expectantly. The trails are most surely my depression, their unknown, perilous way distressing me as I walk. Jagged rocks on the trails, vines creeping their way onto my path, thorns, bristles and barbs — boulders sometimes — all to remind me of the hard path I walk and the heavy load I carry.
The trails I walk may be no more ominous than yours. We all walk them and we all carry burdens on the way. You and I walk no easy trails. There is “no easy walk to freedom,” the song reminds us. Truth! The trails I walk, and your trails, are many and winding, hard and confusing. The obstacles overwhelm. I suppose this describes my depression as well as any words could, and it is precisely that unease in my soul’s depths that has come to me in these days.
The difficult thing about soul-deep depression is its dogged persistence. That kind of depression has staying power and it sits in the soul, creating that terrible sense of the soul’s unknowing. It has the power to convince me that I will never know the things I want to know. Mostly, I want to know destination. Where am I headed? What jagged rocks and prickly thorns will injure me along the way? And will I survive my injuries?
There lies the depth of depression. It lies in the desire, the need, to know. We need to know the unknown — where will the trails take us and what formidable obstacles will stop us. Now understand this, if I had answers, I would have given them to you several hundred words ago. I have no answers of my own, but I do have a nugget of wisdom written by author Angie Weiland-Crosby.
Some trails defy definition, longing only for the soul.
There may be something in her words. If the trails defy our attempts to define them or to know them, perhaps we can find comfort knowing that the trails long only for our soul. The trails only want us to bare our souls along the way and to open them up to the new. The trails are meant for our good, for our spiritual maturing. And as for another comfort, the God we know has seen and known the trails before us. However you see and know God, you can rest in the knowledge that God has some hand in the work of the soul. God knows about the trails we take.
Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid. Don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.”
Joshua 1:9 (The Message Bible)
When all is said and done, I believe the trails I take are necessary ones. In a way, perhaps the trails I take are sacred ones, meant for opening up my soul to its depths where transformation can occur. No, God does not lay out my every trail or remove its thorns and rocks. The trails I take are strewn with rocks meant for me, thorns that pierce just enough to get my soul’s attention. I believe that. And I believe that there is for me a way to trust God wholly. My personal translation of Proverbs 3:5-6 gives me a tiny inkling of hope even when depression ravages my soul.
Trust in whoever you believe God to be in your life. Trust God with all your heart, and don’t rely only on what you understand. In all the twists and turns in your life, perceive this God as one who offers a depth of mercy, A God who sees and knows the trails you walk. And be assured, know deeply in your soul that God will direct your paths.
I want to share with you a video of a beautiful, meditative song entitled, “Depth of Mercy,” performed by students of Fountainview Academy, a Christian high school based in southern British Columbia, Canada. I also share this because of where it is filmed — a beautiful wooded area with various trails. Whatever trail the students took to arrive at their destination seemed a treacherous pathway to me, and even more treacherous, the place where they stood to play and sing.
They were on top of a magnificent ridge, but way too close to the edge for my comfort. At the end, as they sang, “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me?” The image pans across them to the jagged edge and then reveals a very deep and ominous gorge. Panning even farther across, you will see a most beautiful portrayal of nature, one that stirs the senses and reminds us of the depth of mercy our God reserves for us. I hope the video is meaningful to you.