Skip to main content

The other day, Bruce and I drove to the next county west of us, to pick up our quarter beef. I like to think that animal ate some of the hay grown on our field because we bought it from the young man who bales it. When we grill our steaks, or make soup, we can look out over our fields and see how that grass and clover, sunlight and rain, were converted into food we can eat. (This year was not good for hay because it’s been so dry. Our second cutting was mostly clover and weeds. Though he pulled 60 small squares for us and 19 round bales for him.)

As we drove, I admired the rolling fields, corn that is ahead of ours, already drying. And the growing patches of yellow soybeans drying in fields that are still green. Some of them had groves of mature trees growing up what had to be waterways left uncut. I marveled.

Brain fog, freeze, and deep fatigue had set in. I’d been overwhelmed by a marvelous Bible class that Bishop Chris Green had given the night before. He is starting a church in Chattanooga and has opened his Bible classes to anyone on Zoom. During the first one he answered the question that has been nagging me—how do I respond to the upside-down world we live in? Do I argue on Facebook? Isn’t the saying when good men do nothing, evil abounds? Terrible injustices are threading through our culture. There is an authoritarian noose wrapped loosely around us. You might name those injustices differently than I would. But if you and I spoke our perspectives, we might break our friendship. Beside, I don’t have the capacity to repeat back the sources I’ve studied that have brought me to my conclusions.

Green offered his wisdom. He said in the face of everything going on we can be healed and healing presences. (I was grateful he didn’t spell out what he calls ‘everything going on.’) Be healed and healing presences.

And later I listened to Jordan Peterson interview Oliver Anthony and he said something similar. If we don’t leave undone what we’re supposed to do as far as helping someone, we can affect that one other person, and ultimately effect a million people. I have read studies that say happiness can be contagious. So greeting a check out person kindly might make their day, and they might smile at someone and turn their day around and so on. It’s kind of a human version of “if a butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the world, it could cause a typhoon on this side.”

Be healed. Be a healing presence.

Bruce and I dropped into a valley and saw a township truck parked by a utility pole. What’s he doing there? I looked up. A hawk, dangled, head down, wings outstretched. Maybe the guy in the truck could help. But bird was still. Crucified.

We drove to the local butcher. Bruce and I paid and loaded neat white packages into coolers and turned back the same way.

The utility truck was gone. The hawk dangled. His pinions must have caught in the wires and his wings could not let him lift off. They were outstretched like he was in flight.

When I was a girl, I watched for hawks. My heart lifted up when I saw them drop into the sky. In high winds I stretched out my arms, wishing they’d catch me up, so I could soar with them. They gave me hope, a sign: “They that wait up the Lord, shall mount up with wings as eagles.” I knew about waiting, but not as much as I know now.

Freshman year at Wheaton college I sat in Dr. McClatchey’s class, lifted up myself, when I heard him explicate the Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins. He spoke how “buckle” meant the windhover let go of his free flying in much the same way “Christ, who didn’t see equality with God a thing to be grasped but was made in the form of a servant. “Christ buckled, dropped to earth and in that dropping, splashed the world with glory. McClatchey read the lines: “Buckle! And the fire that breaks from then, a billion/Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!//No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion/Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,//Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.” In those words I caught a call to be poet, that still drives me. My creative writing teacher that semester said my gift was humble like the loaves and two fishes, that the Lord could use. So here I am on Substack.

We drove past. I could not shake the sight. That was me. Not able to fly. Crucified, my pinions caught in wires, my wings as powerful as ever, caught, flapping me against a pole, the smell of creosote in my nostrils.

I’d just finished talking to my spiritual companion about whether we have the right to say no, I can’t help you, but soon jumped to how I was emotionally orphaned by a mother who did not hold me as a baby. As a girl my version of heaven was Jesus taking me in his arms and wiping my tears, as I wept in the woods. I was orphaned for real when my parents and brother had died by the time I was thirty-two. This abandonment was reinforced when my parents and brother died within five years of each other, and I was in my late twenties. Bruce and I are both elder orphans.

My spiritual companion said, “You’re talking in archetypes. Maybe instead of seeking to help the poor out in the world, maybe you should tend to the orphaned baby, the little girl crying in the woods, the elder orphan who are living in you.”

The image came to me that I could set that baby in the water like Moses’ mother set him in a coracle, an ark in the Nile, with all the hopefulness, and trust the River would tend him. Her daughter followed, saw Pharoah’s daughter pull him out of the reeds, make him her son, and for a time give him back to his mother to nurse. As I set her in the water, giving her into God’s comfort, I found her, picked her up, feel her in my arms, holding her, blessing her.

Be healed. Be a healing presence.

But do we have a right to say no? The Christianity I’ve heard has said, “No you don’t. Seek out the poor and suffering because that’s where Jesus is.” Jesus himself says if you do this for the least of these you do it for me. He has said depart from me, I never knew you, if we don’t visit the prisoner, don’t clothe the naked etc.

Bishop Green’s second Bible study answered that one as well, when he looked at Nehemiah, a whole book about building a wall, a book that shows how Nehemiah and his workers faced taunting and resistance but ultimately found, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.”

My spiritual companion and I have talked about how anger is a hint that our boundaries are being crossed and that shame can tell us when our deeper, inner place has been violated. We don’t have to express our anger, but we can take note, and think of ways to say, “You can come here but go no farther.”

She reminded me of what James Finley has said, “Do the most loving thing for all involved” and that includes you. Something has shifted in the last few weeks, where I have seen how loneliness has driven how I’ve chosen my friends, how I’ve dropped things I wanted to do in favor of “being there” for them. Simple but needful things like wanting to nap or write or read. Sometimes I’ve lost touch with my own stories. She’s gently insisted that I too am important. I too deserve to have a voice. I’m not sure I’m always wise to know what doing the most loving thing but I’m going to lay that wisdom in God’s hands.

I think about how my trauma, all that rejection that sets me up to be rejected yet again like water pushed up as a boat cuts through it or a kind of rotten air that makes people turn away, was dunked those years ago, when I was thrown down in the water, and raised, dripping wet, the world so bright I could barely see as I walked down the church stairs, to change into dry clothes.

Maybe it’s time to stop mucking around in that grief. Lord knows I’ve grieved enough, across many years, that it’s time to die to these feelings, not to deny them because I know they are there, but to say, “Enough.” And live in the present.

When the bad thoughts come, I can dunk them again, settle into being a healing presence, let the leaves for the healing of the nations grow along the river banks. The same river, where John the Baptist dunked Jesus, redeeming the deep, his Spirit brooded over before the beginning.

I took the dogs for a walk and saw a redtail hawk drop off an electric pole, wings outstretched, soaring over the waterway and bean fields mottled with yellow patches. Then I thought, or maybe the Holy Spirit prompted: “The hawks by you fly free. Sometimes an eagle.”

If you’d like to receive these essays in your inbox, click here.