Every Land Needs a God

The treasure box

My daughter and I made a treasure box yesterday from an old cardboard shipping container and some glittery “jewels,” marker, glue, and paint. It was all going as expected until she leaned back, tapped her chin and said very matter-of-factly:

There needs to be a god.

This is a child who doesn’t talk much about The Divine in traditional terms, so when I heard her articulate this instinct she had my full attention.

I believe that children are closer to truth and mystery than are we adults. We’ve had it all beaten right out of us, but those little ones…poets say children are still wet with Heaven. Whenever children want to talk about life, death, and the spirit I focus on their words. It’s always fascinating.

That’s interesting, sweetie. Why do you think there needs to be a god?

Because this is a land. Every land needs a god.

I like the god you’re making. Tell me about it.

It has a caterpillar body made of jewels, but it needs a face. Momma, will you draw a smile and eyes. No head, just put the smile and eyes in front.

I see this god is over the land. I like that.

It needs wings. Can you please add two wings.

Sure thing, baby.

So there you have it, friends. Every land needs a god. My child’s creation smiles over her land, sans a head that would house a mind as we know it. It shines and watches.

This is the day that her heart has made. I rejoice and am glad in it.

Esse-a-Go-Go: The Ghost Story

These are the draft post titles of the stories I considered but did not write during this project:

  • The Fisher Price Village Story
  • The Elephants Story
  • The Sledding Story
  • The Rail Road Tracks Story

These are all good stories that I may tell one day, but I realized what is one of the very best kinds of stories? GHOST. How could I have missed that one?

Several years ago, I was working for a Charleston small business with offices out of an old house. We threw a pretty great holiday party if I may say so myself, but the celebratory prep was marked with an odd series of events.  Each year as we spent about four weeks slowly getting ready for the party, we noticed things started disappearing.

The most memorable item that went missing was a huge handle of Jack Daniels whiskey. Now you might think, that’s easy, someone just swiped that…but that didn’t seem to  be logical. We were all people who liked to have a good time, but none of us were hard drinkers and most of us never even touched whiskey.  We were all very polite, ethical, engaged professionals who could afford our own party supplies as needed, and it just did not fit that one of us had taken such a large and obvious item out of the office.

Other incidents would crop up in that month before Christmas as well. Things that had been left on desk tops in the evening were gone in the morning, such as staplers and tape dispensers.  Holiday decorations, reams of paper, and even unopened food such as coffee and chips became unaccounted for.  It was never enough to accuse anyone of nefarious behavior, but it was just enough of a pattern to get one’s attention and to raise curiosities.

One year a colleague said, “You guys will laugh at me, but I heard once that our missing items might be connected to the presence of a ghost.”

No one laughed, we just leaned in for more detail.

“Some people believe that the spirits of the dead return to the place of their departure from Earth to try to get the attention of the living. They have unfinished business. If you pay attention to them, they may go away.”

We all did laugh then, but in a way that clearly said, Dammit. I think I might believe that.

We were divided on an appropriate way to “pay attention” to the spirits. Some people wanted to light candles and invite a conversation, others were content to just acknowledge that there might be something to it all, and to show a little respect for the wandering soul.

After Christmas, the owner of the house shared a new detail about the presence we affectionately and somewhat fearfully called, “Our ghost.”

In conversation in Charleston, she’d discovered that there had been another house on an adjacent lot years ago. A young girl had died in a house fire there around Christmas time.  Almost as if our collective awareness of this child’s death was the antidote to her attention-seeking, once we knew of her death the pattern ceased.

To my knowledge, Christmas comes and goes uninterrupted in the old house today. Long before this incident, I determined that I do believe in ghosts, at least as I define them. I think there was a presence in our office space that came, and that left. I like to think our refusal to dismiss her energy helped her on her way to a peaceful place.

Image credits: Child – Ghosts: Haunted Houses. Graves, Elizabeth Gaucher

There Will Be a Door

My daughter is a smart three-and-a-half year old.  I have never said anything to her about Jesus.

This may be shocking to some people, but for me I knew there would be a “right” or best time, and that time had not come before last night.

Truth be told, I don’t speak much to her about God either.  It’s not that I don’t want her to have a rich spiritual life, in fact it’s exactly the opposite.  I know this child, and she is a scientist.  She wants to know how, and why, and what the measurements and evidence are.  I love that about her, and I try to do everything in my power to encourage this way of thinking.

For her right now, trying to explain Jesus is too much like making it a fairy tale.  Which, let’s be fair, in many ways it is like a fairy tale.  But I believe(d) one can only begin to hold the concept of the limitations of human expression in the midst of divine truth after much personal experience over many years.  Even then, the holding is delicate, and easily slips through your fingers.  I can’t even fathom going down the road of, “See that sweet baby? He’s the son of God, He loves all people, he was tortured to death as a criminal. Oh, and he rose from the dead. ‘Night, sweetie…..”

Not. Gonna. Happen.  I just kept telling myself, when the time is right, the door will open, and we will walk through it.

Enter my man, Ezra Jack Keats.

We have the classic book illustrated by Keats The Little Drummer Boy checked out from the library this week.  I’ve been reading/singing it to my child every night for three nights.  As soon as it is over she asks to hear it one more time, so we often have at least two consecutive readings before bed.

Last night, as did so many desperate parents, my husband reached for whatever he thought would work. He said to our bed-bouncing top-of-lungs yelping young’un, “Be quiet, sweetie.  The baby Jesus is trying to sleep.”

Without missing a bounce she laughed and said, “Daddy, that’s silly. The baby Jesus lived a long time ago.  He’s not alive any more. He’s like the dinosaurs.”

I can take a hint.

I took a deep breath, because this is one thing I really didn’t want to screw up. Sex, death, and God need to be as close to right as you can get them.

“Well,” I said, “That’s not exactly true.”

She looked at me seriously. I could tell I was supposed to go on.

I opened The Little Drummer Boy.  “Do you see those kings in the story, the grown ups with crowns and money and fancy presents? Doesn’t it seem a little strange that they are going all that way to give a baby those things?”  She acknowledged it was a little strange.

“Some people believe that baby Jesus was God’s way of coming to live with us on Earth. The kings believed that God sent Jesus. They weren’t just going to see a baby, they believed they were going to honor and welcome a part of God to our world.”

Total attention now.

“See how the baby appreciates the little boy the most? That’s how momma and daddy see  God. We believe God loves all people, and that bringing your truest self as a gift is the best thing you can do.”

She’s still listening to me.  I decide to go for it.  I may never get another chance.

“Momma believes Jesus is still alive. Sometimes I talk to him. (She didn’t laugh at me.)  What would you give baby Jesus as a gift do you think?”

With only a slight pause she says with great confidence, “I would give him a dragon kiss!”

I think I must have gotten something right.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

Our Mothers, Farewells, and The Departed

Ada was the biological mother of three of my friends, but it was not until she died  recently that I truly knew she was my mother, too.

I spent most of my late adolescence in her world.  I attended 4-H club meetings in her basement, shared overnights with her daughter, rode in her panel van to Jackson’s Mill and Camp Virgil Tate, ate in her kitchen, played ball in her front yard, ran up and down the basketball court at her church, and even hid out in her new basement bathroom the night before I was married.

Ada was synonymous with comfort and a place called home.

She had incredibly good posture.  I wish even in my tallest, straightest moments I could stand like she did.  Her crystal blue eyes always stayed connected to mine when we spoke; in fact, at her memorial service I shared my belief that talking to her was like being in a tractor beam, and the comment received rolls of laughter in recognition.  Apparently I was not the only  person upon whom she focused her full attention when talking and listening.

Trying to pin down her most memorable trait, for me it was this utter focus in conversation.  While that may not sound particularly special at first, consider how many people in your life you can say always — always — give you their full attention when you are together.  She had a husband who was significantly older than she was, and who needed her towards the end of his life as much if not more than her three children needed her in their own growing up, yet she never seemed lacking in energy and interest in others.

To see Ada was to feel joy.  I remember hundreds of times I saw her.  Sometimes it was unexpected, like in the grocery store.  Other times it was entirely anticipated as she opened the front door to her home and her face lit up as she exclaimed, “Liz!  Come on in, it’s so good to see you!”  Whether at her front door or in the bread aisle, her presence was consistent and loving.  She was what I think everyone dreams of, sometimes even subconsciously, when they dream of a mother.  She was one of her parents’ eleven children.  As a middle arrival, maybe that is where she learned the skill of managing younger and older people equally well.

This past weekend I drove up to her house for the first time since her death.  It was all routine until my car reached the first familiar bend in the road that for thirty years led me to the place Ada raised her family, extended and otherwise.  My chest felt oddly hollow and I took a moment to make sure my heart was still beating.  I took the next turn, and the car rose up the hill which would crest in the homestead I sought.  There was that strange chest sensation again as I reached the driveway and my eyes rested on the place where Ada no longer was and never would be again.

The house is empty, save for a few remaining personal things, their destination and ultimate dispensation to be determined by Ada’s children.  It is a strange place to me now, this domestic structure that for decades held some of the happiest times in my life.  I’m not sure what I expected, but I think it was to feel some of Ada still in the house.  The truth is, I didn’t feel her there at all.  I felt very sad, and I began to process and manage some of the larger grief I feel beyond the acute pain from the event of her death.

When a person and the home they built disappears in a physical sense, it is a heavy thing.  Forced to deal with this passing, I had clarity about Ada and all that she shared with me as an anchor in my own psychic landscape.  I remember a similar feeling when my beloved Uncle Guy died, a physical feeling of loss, like a gaping wound was echoing a cold wind on aching walls.  The deep desire to put my hands on my lost mother, to feel her and see her and hear her again, is still intense.

I know from losing my uncle that the ache will diminish but never fully go away.  When Ada died, one mysterious term kept popping into my head: “The departed.”  While I am not Catholic, I am familiar with the concept of the departed from the prayer that reads,

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The spiritual concept of a soul having escaped the limits of what we know is, for me, spooky and compelling.  Something about a person’s essence having made an exit with a sense of other-worldly destination rings true in Ada’s unexpected and heartbreaking death.  She departed.  She is somewhere else now.  I can’t see this place, or touch her there or hear her voice, but I feel strongly she is in a new home, where she is greeted — always — with complete love and focus.

As we like to say in Christian parlance, “The tomb is empty.”  That is a metaphor, but it is also reality.  I love you, Mrs. K.  Thank you for everything.  You shaped my life, and I will never forget you.

Image credit: Mary Cassatt

Where Is God in Chronic Illness? – Flunking Sainthood

I always liked St. Francis the best.

Readers of Esse Diem may be interested in this excerpt of my essay for A Spiritual Life:  Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers featured today on Jana Riess’s fabulous blog, Flunking Sainthood.  (I could swear she named that for me, but she says no.)

Jana writes:

As we continue with our Thursday Spirituality series for May, we draw from what I thought was one of the most powerful essays in Allan Cole’s anthology A Spiritual Life. I had not heard of Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher before, but her compelling account of being diagnosed with MS at the tender age of 30 had me spellbound.

Where is God when you’re sitting across from the doctor and he tells you that your health and life will get progressively worse with little hope of a cure? How does that knowledge then change the way you live the time you have left?

Click here to read a portion of the essay: Where Is God in Chronic Illness? – Flunking Sainthood

Image credit:  The Legend of St. Francis and the Wolf

Wabi-Sabi: “To My Fellow Swimmers”

Wabi-Sabi: Wisdom from the Elders of the Hopi Nation.

Sunday is a day many people spend in reflection.  I am grateful to my friend Jim McKay for the opportunity to read this Prophecy delivered by the Elders of the Hopi Nation on June 8, 2000, at Oraibi Arizona.  I plan to re-read it many times.  This week I’ll be writing about fear, and I found the words of Jim’s post flow well into my own thinking about that issue.

I started to write that “Jim is a tireless advocate for children,” but truth be told it is tiring work for anyone.  I admire his passion, his tenacity, and his ability to always reach back with a strong hand to help others find the resolve to do the right thing.

Thank you, Jim.  For everything.