By Kathy Berken
Not that I want to be a child again, because growing up was emotionally difficult for so many years. But I do long for the time when the worst problem I had on any particular day was not being able to find the burnt sienna crayon in my shoebox.
I have begun to look at making life from a child’s perspective a spiritual practice. No, I am not hiding from the harsh realities I face: my daughter Erica’s breast cancer and regimens of chemotherapy, radiation and ongoing reconstruction; her unemployment status; fears over the virus; racial tensions in our cities and towns; political divisions and frustrations over the election; uncertainty about financial security; climate change and what that means for the earth …
Still, I am moved to a place emotionally that helps me find God at the center of my life when I am with my 2-1/2-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle. I take care of her on Mondays when Erica goes to chemo with her husband Aaron. So, our weekly visits become a holy time for me as I get to be the grandma who tells Isabelle, “If you eat all your lettuce, you can hear the bunnies!” She gobbles up her salad so we can stop and listen, and say yes, “I do hear them! Don’t you?” “I do hear the bunnies!”
On our walks to the park and the duck pond, we point out everything we see. I am a tree lover, so of course we identify the oaks, maples, pines and weeping willows by their leaves and bark, pick up acorns, pine cones and whatever treasures lie at our feet. We watch squirrels gathering food for the winter, turtles sunning themselves on branches sticking out of the water, and grasshoppers jumping around in freshly mown grass on the hill leading to the pond.
Two things that happened recently caught me off guard. I noticed a solitary purple flower near the bank of the pond and told Isabelle, “Let’s go look at that flower.” I walked up to it and noticed that half of its petals were gone, so I did not think it was a great specimen. However, Isabelle exclaimed, “It’s beautiful!” with the excitement usually reserved for gorgeous sunsets. She did not care that half the petals were missing. She saw the beauty in the flower and made her joy known immediately.
When we got home, she wanted to read a book that asks the reader to find the object on the page that does not have any matches. We found the matching badgers and the odd one out. We turned the page to the birds and pointed out all the matching partners. In the center of the page was a large black bird with a long beak that looked nothing like the others. She found it and I said, “Oh, dear, she doesn’t have any friends.” Isabelle didn’t miss a beat. She waved her hand across the whole page, pointing to all the other birds and in a voice that indicated she saw things differently, responded, “All of these are her friends!”
I am learning from a 2-year-old how to look at the world in a way that is still genuine, but brings hope. Flowers with missing petals are still beautiful. A bird that does not look like the others can still be friends with all of them.
If you are looking for a spiritual practice to help you get through these tough times, I invite you to stop and be consciously aware of gleams of hope. No matter how small or insignificant something might appear to be. You might just feel a little closer to God for doing so.
I am grateful for Isabelle’s teaching: simple gleams of hope join to form brilliant rays of light making God’s presence even more evident.
(Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton (1999-2009).)