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New ways of Being

So, whenever a scripture passage begins with, “Now concerning virgins…”, you know things are about to get a little… wonky.

(Note: I’ve decided to step back into a daily writing practice given the effect of COVID-19 on those of us in NYC. I’ve pretty much abandoned my planned Lenten practices, so I’m going to challenge myself to engage with scripture instead.)

There are so many reasons why some contemporary Christians cringe whenever we quote any of the letters of or attributed to Paul. Man, whenever he talks about anything having to do with women, gender, sex, or slaves, we’re often like… ok brother… do yourself a favor and stop talking…?

Maybe this is kind of like how some of us felt watching our leaders stumble around this past week as they tried to figure out what to do next, what to cancel, how to frame COVID-19 for the public, etc. Where is the line between causing panic and making sure people take this thing seriously? Where is the line, for a leader, between being a “non-anxious presence” and just looking like you are out-of-touch with the reality of the public health crisis upon us now? And where is the line, as a citizen, between stocking up on essentials… what is essential? Toilet paper? Dried beans? Produce? Ice cream? (You may infer where our family fell on the “essentials” line. What’s the apocalypse without appropriate stocks of chocolate?)

Thinking about all of those fine lines in a crisis gives me a little more compassion for Paul. The lectionary, of course, does not allow us the option of looking away from the cringiest parts of Paul’s writings. I wonder if he’s cringing, himself, up in heaven somewhere? In any case, Here is this morning’s excerpt from morning prayer:

From 1 Corinthians…

Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

The present form of this world is passing away. Hmmm.

There are a lot of unanswered questions about what life was like for early Christians, but people generally believe that most or all of them believed they were living at the edge of time – that something huge was going to change, possibly the end of the world, possibly a new era in time, possibly what they called the “Kingdom of God” – whatever that meant. So there was an underlying anxiety to their lives, an underlying sense that things might have seemed normal but they were not, an anxiety about how to be best prepared for the new reality. This anxiety is probably what fueled Paul to write things like this. He’s trying to give direction to a community that isn’t sure what’s coming next.

Maybe some of that feels familiar to you. Many of us in faith communities gathered virtually this past weekend, instead of in person. Many of us with children at home are watching them have to learn how to do school virtually and many of us are learning how to do our own jobs virtually. Many of us have had hours cut, lost contracts and gigs that were scheduled, had travel plans upended, had parties and gatherings that were planned canceled.

We had a long talk at our dining room table last night about family agreements for pandemic times. We talked about the importance of eating at regularly scheduled times, of having a creative project of some kind, having books to read, getting exercise and limiting screen time. Maybe you are having similar talks with your families, your friends, your neighbors. How can we together even though we have to be apart in unfamiliar ways?

Can we learn to strengthen our communal bonds, instead of being torn apart at this crucial time?

And might everything change? Might the present form of this world, by virtue of those communal bonds, pass away? Might we learn how to really be together even though we are apart? Might we learn how to rejoice and mourn and have an economy and “deal with the world”  in new ways – as though those bonds between us are the most important thing?

Because yes, they are. The Kin-dom of God is at hand.

Thanks be to God.

 

The big 4-0

When I turned 30, I decided to celebrate my new decade by trying snowboarding.

I didn’t think it would be too much of a stretch. After all, I had been skiing since I was ten years old. And 30 is still young. Like, way young, right? I was going to be awesome at this.

As I was getting fit into my rental equipment the snowboarding rental dude asked if I wanted a helmet. I snorted internally: a helmet? OMG, no. Like, I have been skiing for 20 years and we never wore helmets even when I was 10 and look at me. I’m fine. So no.

“No thanks,” I answered, inwardly rolling my eyes.

After my second fall – which was on my first time down the bunny slope at a Pennsylvania ski area which could probably entirely qualify as a bunny slope – I had to literally dig packed snow out of my right ear.

I decided that maybe I could use that crash helmet after all, and dragged myself back into the lodge to get one.

It turned out to be a stunningly accurate metaphor for what my 30s would be like. So that’s a big YES on the crash helmet.

——-

Thirty, in Roman numerals, is XXX. When I turned thirty, that’s what I put on my timeline. Facebook still started all of our status updates with “(Your name) is…” so it read, April is XXX. Triple X, baby. That’s me. I mean, I had a three-year-old and was still in the coursework phase of my Ph.D., and I felt the snowboarding for at least a week after I came home. Like, I felt it everywhere. But still. XXX. Hear me roar.

Forty is XL. When Lou and I realized this yesterday we shared a thoughtful nodding moment. Hmm. Yes. XL is appropriate in so many ways. April is XL. Roar.

——-

Yesterday I took my very high strung chihuahua-miniature pinscher dog out on a long walk in the hills of the park near our house. The only time this dog is peaceful outside of our apartment is in these hills. No pulling, no frantic food-searching, no barking maniacally at other dogs (or small children, or dead leaves, or the wind, or whatever else he feels like barking at.) Something about it makes him feel safe. I think it’s the trees.

We walked to an area that overlooks the Hudson River, just north of the GW bridge. It was a crystal-clear blue sky February day, and the wind was just strong enough to make you feel exhilarated, not strong enough to be frightening. I saw what I thought at first was a drone flying down the Hudson – so smooth and straight, I thought it had to be a mechanical device of some kind. It certainly wasn’t one of the many hawks that frequent that area — they don’t fly that steadily.

As it got closer I saw the white head and white tail. It was a bald eagle. It was so high I could barely make out any details, but the colors were clear. I had heard there were eagles that frequented that area, and peregrine falcons, but I had never seen them. I stood watching it soar along the cliffs of the river until it faded from view, beyond the bridge.

A few hours later Lou and I were driving up by the Tarrytown reservoir – we had driven up for my favorite Greek restaurant – and clear as day, another bald eagle sitting in the branches of a tall deciduous tree of some kind. This one was so close I could see its beak, the outline of the white feathers of its head, and… how stunningly large it was.  How wild and present and free.

Eagles, I have been told, symbolize intuition, spirituality, and creativity. These last few weeks, as I’ve been preparing to enter the next decade of my life, I have been making decisions that reflect those three things.  I come out of my 30s bearing some serious, and beautiful, scars. None of us get through life unscathed. (Heck, none of us get out… alive, really.)

I had no idea what my 30s were going to throw at me but I find myself, today, immensely grateful for the person I have become, and am becoming.

———

So. The tattoo. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was worth it. Let me tell you about the symbolism.

Wildflowers have long been symbol for me for God. I see them all over the city when its warmer – they will grow anywhere they can find and make it beautiful. They will crack sidewalks and road surfaces if left to their own devices. I don’t care much for manicured and cut flowers – I feel more connected, more at home, in an abandoned lot or rural meadow, filled with dandelions and Queen Anne’s lace. Rose gardens are not for me, but wild roses and honeysuckle I will stop to smell and admire any day. That is how I started with wildflowers for this tattoo.

If there is a text that defines my thirties, I think, it is the poem “Integrity” by Adrienne Rich. Adrienne Rich’s works held me and inspired me and challenged me this past decade, and came to feel like some of the sacred scriptures of my life. There is a line in that poem that reads, “Anger and tenderness: my selves.” It is one of my favorite lines ever written.

So I have petunias, which are the only flower that symbolize anger. And I have violets, which symbolize tenderness, and specifically love between women. They also happen to be my birth month flower, purple, the same color as my birth stone, amethyst.

And then I have that dandelion, because I have always had a soft spot for dandelions, for their garish yellow, for the way they make themselves so available for children to string into necklaces and crowns, for their seeds that we can sit in fields and blow like bubbles into the breeze. Dandelions, I learned, symbolize overcoming adversity and freedom. So, at the top of my wildflower bouquet, there is a dandelion with its seeds blowing away. The seeds will catch the wind and, of course, to the chagrin of suburban parents everywhere, grow more dandelions. The dandelion does not care about your well-manicured yard. The dandelions will not stay off your lawn. There are those of us who appreciate that kind of tenacity.

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Here’s what 40 looks like on me. This selfie was taken just as I was about to sit with a group of teenagers for half an hour to eat potato chips and gummy worms and talk about Satan and the concept of good and evil. They all sang to me when I walked in the door of the room and later said they all kind of felt sorry for Satan, kind of wanted to give him a hug.

What I didn’t say was that that is probably the only “weapon” one can use against such a foe. And oh, my thirties, you gave me plenty of foes. Many of them lived within me. I am so grateful to be 40 now, to be through that decade, and to have learned how to embrace them all.

 

 

 

Tattoo

If all goes well – and by going well, I mean, if I don’t chicken out last minute – I will emerge from this coming weekend with a tattoo. It will be my first tattoo and I am getting it on my chest. The artist estimated about 3 hours for it. For my first tattoo. 3 hours.

Yes. I am turning 40 in just a little over a week, and I’m happy to report that although I have considered getting a tattoo at other times in my life, this is the first time that I really feel like this tattoo is something that is spiritually important to me. For the first time, I know exactly what I want and I have no doubt that I will always want it on me.

I guess what I’m saying is, for the first time, I feel like I know myself well enough to be excited about getting a tattoo.

The permanency of tattoos has always been what’s scared me, not necessarily the pain (although that is, at the current hour, also on my mind.) I didn’t like the idea of having something on me that I couldn’t change, couldn’t remove (with any ease, at least) and that might not, well… suit me in 5 or 10 or 30 years. I am not, by nature, someone who “settles” easily with anything, and feeling “trapped” or put in a box in any way is pretty much my pathological fear in life. So, tattoos have always presented that challenge.

But all this thinking and preparing myself for the 3 hours of tattooing that will take place on my body this weekend has got me thinking, too, about one of those oft-repeated, love-it-or-hate-it core theological statements of Christianity: Jesus takes away our sin.

Now, I am a minister in a highly progressive context where we tend to opt not to wrestle with these things but instead just to brush them off or ignore them. Which is better, I think, than other things that could be done with difficult theological ideas – I mean, I’m not all that interested in versions of Christianity that are obsessed with “accepting Jesus” in order to “be cleansed of sin” so that one can “get into heaven.”

No, my Christianity is much more focused on the here and now, and the tension of trying to live into the life that Jesus taught and shared even while we are complicit in so much that stands against everything Jesus stood for.

So this is the way I’ve been working with that phrase as of late, that Jesus takes away our sin. Clearly, Jesus does not in any way stop us from, well, sinning. Like, not at all. We all do messed up shit everyday, and sometimes just by virtue of our existence (I’m remembering a conversation I had with a colleague today who tried to go zero-waste for Lent one year. “I’m a one-woman trash machine!” she said. There are systems of sin in our world that we can resist, but very few we can totally extricate ourselves from.)

So what does it mean that Jesus takes away our sin?

What I’m thinking about today might sound paltry or “of course.” But I’m thinking about the damage I do not only to people and other living things around me throughout the course of my day, but also the damage I do to myself. 

I’m thinking about how every time I spray a cockroach with toxic chemicals in my kitchen (hey, it’s NYC) I’m opting to dull myself just a little bit more to the suffering of another being and to the responsibility I have for not putting toxic chemicals into the world. That’s damage.

I’m thinking about how every time I lack the courage to increase our charitable giving, I’m forming myself just a little bit more into someone who lives in fear and mistrust. That’s damage.

I’m thinking about every time I’ve looked away from a person on the street asking for money, and how I’m stifling my own empathy just a bit more each time and my ability to have compassion on those who suffer. That’s damage.

It’s like being marked with a tattoo, just a little dot, over and over again, by my own hand. And, of course, leaving a little tattoo dot on someone else, as well. This is life, this is what we do to one another, this is what we do to ourselves.

I am not necessarily interested in living forever or being freed from the consequences of these actions. But if one of the messages of the resurrection is that those little dots, no matter how many we have on our bodies, can never define us? Or that no matter how damaged we are from what Christians call “sin” in the world, so damaged that maybe we don’t even feel alive anymore, there is always the promise of new life, hope, connection, healing… no matter what?

I’m there for that. It’s a huge thing to have faith in. How many people do we all know that we feel hopeless about? How many times have we lost faith in our own abilities to bring love and light into the world?

The promise of the resurrection, the promise of “Jesus takes away our sin,” is that Jesus is like a tattoo remover/retoucher for the spirit. Little by little, dot by dot… the ways we mark ourselves and mark others around us can either be taken away or, more commonly, retouched and redone so that those disparate little marks become a thing of beauty we wear inwardly.

Can I have faith in that? Can I trust it? It’s a big ask. If we believe it then that means we have to really believe the world can change, that the world is worth hoping for, that other people are worth hoping for. And hope can hurt.

But I’m here for it.

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This is the day to burn things.

By “things” I mean, candles. Some wood in a  fireplace if you have it. It is Saint Brigid’s Day, one of the patron saints of Ireland. Brigid is known for possibly being a) the last high priestess of the Druid Goddess Brigid, who then converted and became a Christian nun b) a miracle worker: along the lines of healing people but also turning water into beer c) The first abbess at Kildare, which was probably the holy site of the Druid Goddess that is her namesake d) A wonderfully and probably super queer human whose closest companion was another woman with whom she shared the same bed and also now shares a feast day, Dar Lugdach. If you look at the icon that is in the picture above, you see them both – they were “Anam Cara” (soul friends) in life and I like to imagine them together in death, too. Brigid is said to have envisioned Heaven as a lake of beer. I’m not kidding. She must have been a real wild ride.

Christian churches – and most organized religious institutions – are often thought of as places we go to conform, communities where individuality might be tolerated but probably not. And there are good reasons to think of organized religion this way. It is certainly how I used to think of it, and certainly what is often at the root of my own ambivalence about my life’s work.

But Brigid, and so many of our other saints – including so many of those still living! – insist otherwise. One does not become a saint by simply following unwritten rules. One does not become a saint by checking all the boxes. Following rules and checking boxes might be a part of one’s journey as a saint – but will never be the be-all and end-all of the spiritual path. Brigid never learned to color inside the lines! Her family was irritated with how she kept indiscriminately giving away their possessions to people who needed them. Brigid, who refused to marry, was being cat-called one day as she carried a heavy box through town and in response to someone’s comment on her beautiful eyes… she stuck her finger in her own eye, causing it to bleed and… yeah. Then she healed herself, but she also made her catcallers eyes explode in their heads. Friends, do not mess with Brigid.

There is so much more I could write about St. Brigid, but today I’m just feeling the flames. The ancient Goddess Brigid had fire as one of her attributes and St. Brigid is also often associated with flame and the hearth. On this first day of February, a dull and gray and chilly day here in NYC, a time that feels particularly dark in our country and in our world, we need that first fire of Imbolc, we need the holy flames of St. Brigid. The darkness is real and it is paralyzing at times. But the fire, too, is real. Warm your hands, for the journey is long.

 

healing and rest

What I’d like to do tonight is tell you about the feeling of okay and the feeling of setting down.

And the feeling of learning how to rest.

I know this isn’t sensational or argumentative or something super interesting that will generate lots of blog traffic. The internet is not the place for people who want to rest, anyway.

Or maybe it is. I know that I often find myself, when I need rest the most, scrolling through mindlessly, trying to find something to entertain me, take me out of myself, distract me from my exhaustion. Instead of just, you know… resting.

Rest does not come easy to me at the ground or 20,000 foot level. On the ground, early-waking insomnia is the devil that lives on my shoulder, my constant companion. From 20,000 feet, it’s only been in the past year or two that I’ve learned how to trust the universe – or myself – enough to stop moving.

Enough to spend time doing things that are not… productive.

I used to take my harp on vacation to practice. Evenings and weekends were for writing – either creatively or, more often, papers or the dissertation. And then, of course, childcare. With a 12-year-old now, I’m far out of the constant-attention phase of parenting and I’m just entering the my-kid-tells-me-to-go-away phase of parenting, but for a long time, you know how it goes – there were always games that had to be played, a mouth that needed to be fed, a body that needed to be bathed, or the toys, the endless toys, that needed to be picked up.

So this learning how to rest is partially personal development, and partially stage of life. And, of course, privilege. I am no longer hustling for harp gigs all the time. Church work and academic work will eat up time just the same way musician life did, but I’m so much better with boundaries now. I’ve learned. I’ve learned the hard way, in a lot of ways. But I’ve learned how to prioritize rest, and I’ve learned to actually enjoy it and not be plagued with guilt the entire time.

I’m not totally sure what happened, but I suspect it has something to do with the healing of trauma. It’s pretty hard to ever rest or enjoy resting when the universe feels like it could fall apart at any moment, that everyone you love could be a lie, that those you love the most could disappear or die at any second. It’s hard to rest when you feel like you need to justify your existence in a world you don’t deserve to enjoy.

I don’t know exactly how this healing happened, that I feel able to rest in a sense of trust. This is not a trust that “everything will be ok” – everything is NOT ok, it only takes a quick perusal of the internet to know that. It’s a trust that I will somehow be held together, no matter what else falls apart. It is a trust that even if I do fall apart, I am not falling apart right now. It’s a releasing myself from the illusion of responsibility for any and all falling apart. It’s a releasing myself from the illusion that my being able to rest depends on my ability to hold everything together.

This is the funny thing about the spiritual life, about the arts, about any skill we seek to develop: it’s often the opposite action that achieves the desired result. I remember when I used to play complex and difficult passages on the pedal harp that required a lot of jumping from low strings to high strings and back – the only way to “nail” those jumps was to relax into them. If you think too hard about it, if you try to hard to get to the right string, you tense up and you miss it, because in order to get there in time you have to be relaxed.

I don’t know how I ended up finally learning how to rest. It’s part choice but mostly circumstance; part thoughtful intention but mostly being at the mercy of my body and life in a new way; part effort of difficult healing but even more, just finally… resting.

 

 

What We See

“April. You’ve gained a lot of weight.”

Several months ago, the stars aligned and I found myself stepping back into a house I hadn’t been to in years – the home of some dear, old friends, people who have known me for decades. I hadn’t seen them since the divorce.

I have been divorced for roughly five years now, and these years have been both the hardest and most generative years of my life. There have been significant stretches of time during these years when I have not been sure if I would come out the other side, or in what form. At times I haven’t been sure about my own goodness, or value; at times I haven’t been right more than I’ve been wrong; at times I haven’t always been able to recognize when I’ve been right; most of the time right and wrong have gone out the window. My ethics and values have all been put on the table to be re-evaluated; I’ve been starkly alone and I’ve also learned to really depend on other people; I’ve learned to find the strength that only comes out when you live in the truth; I’ve learned how powerless I am in the face of grief and loss and trauma.

And now I’m almost 40 and I am absolutely the best version of “me” that I’ve ever been. I have survived that shit, you know?

I couldn’t wait to be with these friends again, to show them how much more love I have in my heart now, how much braver I am, how much more gratitude I have life. And I couldn’t wait to see them, to see how they have grown and changed, to see what sparks their passion these days, to be in the presence of their hard-won wisdom.

But that was not what they saw. They saw the 50 pounds I’ve put on over these years, the gray hair that’s appeared around my temples, the beginnings of wrinkles around my eyes.

Today is the Christian feast of the Epiphany, a day that traditionally celebrates the Magi seeing and recognizing the newborn baby as the Christ. Here’s the excerpt from the Psalm (46) that jumped out to me today:

Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,
what awesome things he has done on earth.

It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.

 

I think of Epiphany as this hidden season of light that comes between Christmas and Lent. It’s stuffed into the dark, cold and dismal days of January, arguably with NYC is at its worst (especially if it is snowy and icy), and we’re all a strange mix of resignation and determination thanks to the celebration of the New Year. Yet the church year insists on light, on knowing and recognizing the miraculous among us.

 

My friend was right when she said I had gained weight. I have. A lot. I’ve often wished it wasn’t the case and I’ve struggled with it immensely over the past few years in particular. What she saw was true. But she missed so many other things. She couldn’t see past the extra pounds. And she couldn’t see that I’ve come to accept that being thin again just might not be in the cards for me for a variety of very good reasons. And I’ve come to actually celebrate the fact that I eat pretty healthy and I am awesome at getting regular exercise and I actually enjoy that exercise and don’t treat it like a punishment that I have to endure for the crime of nourishing my body.

 

In short, I see fucking clearly now about all this body image nonsense, and one of my intentions for the new year is to continue to de-colonize my vision around what’s beautiful and what’s not. So this year? My intention is to get beyond this “acceptance” nonsense around my body and to learn how to just really, insanely LOVE this body I have, because it is a SURVIVOR and it is strong and it is soft and my son loves to hug me and my partner and I cuddle up so nicely together and my dog loves the comfort of my thigh to rest his little head on and I go up and down 4 flights of stairs multiple times a day to get in and out of my apartment without blinking an eye, my friends.

 

Also I can see well and hear well and I have an amazing immune system and have been gifted with a serious-illness-free life so far. I love riding my bike on the North County trail and walking the hills in Inwood Hill Park. And dancing! And stretching! And playing harp and banjo!

 

My friend missed all of this when all she saw was my weight. She saw bigger thighs and a belly and then – as we’ve all been trained – simply saw failure, weakness, loss. She saw a hard journey but missed all the gifts this journey has given me. And it’s really hard to explain that to someone who initially just sees the pudge – it’s hard to explain it without it sounding like excuses or denial. Because I’ve been that person, and I know that you really can’t hear anything else when you’re seeing life that way.

 

But I’m not that person anymore, and I am so not going to waste another minute of the precious time I have left mourning the fact that my body no longer conforms to some distorted, capitalistic and patriarchal vision for what beauty and value are. I know, deep in my heart, that every way that I’ve grown is worth so much more than that.

 

So, Epiphany. I’m still learning how to really see the miracle of my body and my journey in it, and the miracle of others bodies and abilities and their journeys, and I’m going to rely on the grace of the Spirit for the humility and openness to see the miraculous work of life and growth and the image of the Christ in all the places that our various cultures insist that we debase instead of celebrate.

Starting with the mirror.

 

Thanks be to God!

The Miracle of A River Otter

The darkest point of the year is when we start preparing for the sun.

This is the simple truth, embedded in many earth-based forms of spirituality and religion (which most modern world religion retain, at least in their practices.) It is when the earth seems frozen that we start to think about planting seeds; it is when light and warmth are scarce that we celebrate the light and warmth in our homes, our communities, our families, our spirits.

There have been years, a decade or more, in my life when I have felt the coming of winter darkness as a threat. I have entered the season with great trepidation, anti-depressants in hand, always feeling that the autumn was just a time of watching the life be drained from flora and fauna, watching a death descend that might just get me this year as well.

Lou, Luke and I spent a few days in Montreal right after Christmas, where it was not quite as cold as I expected but it was definitely darker. Night fell earlier and morning came slower. Driving along the border on the way there and back, the landscape was barren and icy.

And…. it was beautiful. Beautiful in a way I felt deep in my bones, the same way I remember the untouched snow in our back yard being beautiful when I was a child, the same way I have wanted to be able to see the beauty of winter again for many years but has not been within my reach.

Here’s the reading I’m looking at today. This is one of the readings for Epiphany, which comes on January 6th, from the 60th chapter of Isaiah.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.

On our last day in Montreal we decided to drive out of the city to visit an outdoor “ecomuseum,” actually a sort of zoo for arctic animals who could not be returned to the wild for one reason or another. I typically hate zoos, honestly – it’s hard for me to see wild animals in cages – but this place seemed uniquely loving and caring. The animals were outside in large, protected spaces, being fed real food, feeling real snow and ice and wind.

And they were stunning. We could have stood and watched the caribou for hours, the river otters, the owls. Oh, the owl, that magical and mystical creature. And the arctic foxes and river otters, playful and snuggly and yet so… other.

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This place was mainly populated by young children and their families, which I recognized immediately: this was a Canadian version of the farm-zoos I used to take Luke to when he was that age, where we’d see cows and pigs and llamas and horses and peacocks. Little kids love animals. It’s like we are born with an innate love, respect and reverence for the creatures of the world. I will never forget the first time Luke saw a sheep. He was not quite two, and I was pushing him in a stroller around one of these places. When the sheep came up to the fence, Luke’s little friend got scared and started crying (respect! Big animals should scare us on some level at least.) When Luke saw the sheep, he started laughing. Hysterically laughing. He could not stop. It made me laugh too. I had never realized it, but yes, sheep are just inherently funny. This is how children help us all grow, by reminding us of these important truths that make life so much more joyful. What happens to people who emerge from childhood without that reverence and love for our fellow creatures on the earth? I found myself wondering this as we drove back to our hotel. It’s so clear to me that humans are born to love and care for the beings we share space with, yet people who rise to positions of power have often lost sight of that reverence – or perhaps have forgotten how to be reverent, forgotten that wildlife is not simply there for our consumption, not something that we can just enjoy and not make sacrifices to care for it.

We have “othered” the earth and the miraculous plant and animal life that exists with us, made ourselves separate from it in our minds, and now we make decisions like building leaky oil pipelines down fantastic wilderness, creating plastic junk that chokes the sea monsters, and dumping chemicals into the water and soil that poison us all.

If that’s not a “thick darkness” that covers the earth like Isaiah describes, I don’t know what is. A darkness that hides our connection to the miraculous diversity of life that surrounds us on this earth, our “island home” (h/t BCP). It’s a darkness that hides our own vulnerability from us and makes us believe that we can act without impunity or consequence on this planet. It’s a darkness that keeps us from seeing the simple miracle of an own moving its head back and forth, of the hilarity of river otters careening down slippery rocks, of the sheer presence of the caribou, those magnificent creatures.

It’s a darkness that keeps us from love. This is my prayer for the new year, for 2020 and beyond, and for this Epiphany season: that the “thick darkness” that keeps us trapped in an illusion of separateness clears away like smog being lifted from a cityscape; that we cease to bow to the gods of self, industrialization, independence and consumption; that we cease to live so faithlessly, so untrusting in the world and one another, so small-minded and unimaginative that the only way we seek to live is at the expense of other vulnerable, miraculous, and intrinsically valuable plant and animal life in the world.