Almost exactly one year ago, just a few days shy, I exchanged a series of emails with my friend Julia. She’s a girl, or rather woman because I guess we are women now, who has one of the most beautiful hearts I have come across. Her laugh fills up not just a room or a house, but a whole street with joy. I love Julia because she is kind, and fair, and never afraid to talk about her love for God and His for her. This time last year Julia wrote to me (and I tell you this with her permission), “Thinking about light. Jesus said he was the Light of the world. I think he could walk on water because he really was LIGHT. And if we are all part of God, made in His image, then WE are made of light too. Fallible, yes, because we are human and living in an imperfect world. It doesn’t take a scientist to say this world isn’t perfect.” And later, “It’s like there are elements in nature—and in our human nature—that are clues to who we are really meant to be and who God is.”
When I read this, I think about Julia’s tendency to see hearts in things. The billows and swirls of creamer in coffee, thin frost on a car windshield, and the way a broken egg yoke pours forth on a white plate. Julia sees hearts the way my dad finds four-leaf clovers, everywhere.
It is hard to know who to talk to about God and faith, because as Julia pointed out to me it can seem too controversial—or maybe for some just too personal. Last fall semester in my memoir writing workshop, I did something I wish I hadn’t or rather I didn’t do something I wish I had. I left out the spiritual experience I had the previous summer from my manuscript, even though as far as I can tell it changed my life. For some reason I was embarrassed and thought my classmates would think it was silly, childish, naive that beneath the pressure of compounding emotional agony I slipped from my bed and knelt to pray the way I was taught as a child, opening up a conversation with my God that I plan to continue for the rest of my life. I know that it’s not silly, and I still regret leaving that part out of the writing I submitted. But I’ve found it’s hard to put into words. Then again, what isn’t?
The two boys I nanny here in Boston (have I mentioned that’s part of what I do now?) love space. Last year we would go once a week to the Museum of Science to play in the Apollo capsule replica and read aloud every, I mean every, blurb on every sign that remotely related to space and space travel. I have always found the infinity of space terrifying, but the more I learned the more I was reassured that there is reason, and energy, and purpose in every molecule in the universe and, more importantly, that the control of all of it is beyond my comprehension. I think so often we try to define and declare every little thing, but what I’m sure of now is that there are things we can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t understand. That trust in God and our world makes this not knowing okay. I don’t mean to say that I think ignorance is the way to go, but just that trust is important, vital even. It is our duty to learn what we can—my high school English teacher once drew a small circle on the chalk board and told my class that everything inside the circle is what you know and everything outside the circle is what you don’t know, the circumference (where the inside meets the outside) is your awareness of what you don’t know; once that sunk in, he erased the circle and drew a bigger one, showing us that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. The more I’ve learned, the more comfort I’ve found in the acceptance God has for me despite my not knowing, despite my childishness and naiveté, as to Him I will always be a child. This year the boys have been more interested in baseball statistics than space, which has opened me up to another world of things I find confusing: professional sports.
There’s more to say here of course, there always is when discussing infinity and the everlasting, but the thought that prompted me to start writing was one of the season of Advent and the preparation for Christmas. I count down the days until I fly to Maryland to be embraced by the love of my family and breathe in deeply the smells of apple, cinnamon, and pine that fill the only place I have ever called home. My mom sent me a photo this evening of our home trimmed with tiny white lights and covered in snow, and I thought those lights are the celebration and magnification of the sprinkling of God’s love on my family. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been partial to driving around town this time of year, because you don’t have to look hard to see Love—it’s not disguised as a tiny heart-shaped water stain on a wooden table and it’s not the only four-leaf clover hidden in a huge patch of threes—it’s bright, and it twinkles, and it’s beautiful.