I rested on my nordic skis at the edge of the meadow. The sun was just up, the sky perfectly blue. The snow sparkled, the meadow before me was a sea of glitter. It beckoned, promising a glorious experience, yet I felt small and alone, and reluctant to start across, for some reason. I took out the little radio in my pocket and checked in with my husband, a half-mile back at the hut. “Glad you’re having fun, over and out,” he ended, the sign-off all the permission I needed to plunge forward. I started to glide forward, enjoying the rhythmic movements that propelled me across the meadow. I had a glorious, memorable trek, melding with the snow and sky and sun.
Having been so long absorbed in domestic chores for a child, I am entering the next phase. I have time to return to the full feeling of the fierce joy of allowing myself an individual experience. Something in me hesitates. Habit? Fear? My identity feels like it is very entangled. Yet I know I am an individual first in the sight of God.
I sometimes marvel at how much of our maternal identity is formed around our desire for our children. Desire for their health and safety, of course, but also the desire that they attain the goods of the soul – those deep spiritual convictions that sustain hope and the joy of faith. These spiritual resources have a more definite form for me after my conversion to Christianity, yet I also believe that there may be many “accidental” gifts of this sort that grow in those who may not name them by their Christian names. The truths of the spirit are so hard to put into words.
Since I am the only Christian in my family, I often flounder for right-sounding language that would capture the fierce reality of individuality and also the intensity of my desires for the ones I love. Jesus seems to have foreseen this difficulty, acknowledging that two or more would need to be gathered in his name. Without an interlocutor with whom to share the words of Scripture, I often choose instead the prayer that is the coffee brewed and poured and handed over in the morning, the bed ready with fresh sheets in the evening, the lunch packed, the groceries stocked, the meal prepared. The aftermath of these prayers is not the sweet amen and blessing of liturgy, but dirty dishes, unfolded laundry.
How else can I communicate my faith amidst hearth and home?
Yet I know that even those women whose children and spouses are tucked into the pews beside them on Sundays, whose families intone the proper words over meals, over family events, ventures launched — these women too pray, like me, that their loved ones may know God in the deepest sense, and may trust Him.
In his new book, He Held Radical Light, the American poet and theologian Christian Wiman describes an encounter with Seamus Heaney in which Wiman floundered to find a language that would communicate his evangelical desire that Heaney turn toward Christ:
“What might I have said? All you have to do, Seamus, is open your big Irish heart to Jesus. One more truth dies with the utterance. No, the casual way… of talking about God is not simply dispiriting, but is, for some sensibilities, actively destructive. There are times when silence is not only the highest, but the only possible, piety.”
God’s language is so much more subtle and nuanced than ours. God speaks through the glorious glistening snow-covered meadow, through the fall of the snow, so silent and yet so profound. Peace, power, confirmation, realization, and energy are so deeply communicated to me in those silent moments in the snow. The words I choose crystallize my intentions, and leave them isolated and vulnerable. I read recently that there are many types of snow, and the crystallized snowflake is only one of them. Researchers travel to Antarctica to search the ice for ancient meteors, because in Antarctica, the snow shatters when it hits the ground, and does not coat the ice.
I pray that I may learn to trust my own spirit to know when to speak and when to remain silent, and trust my loved ones as they make their own spiritual journeys. My favorite Gerard Manley Hopkins poem has the line: “Myself it speaks and spells, crying What I do is me, for that I came.” There is so much fierce joy in this expression — and faith in self and other.
Claudia Hauer has a Ph. D. in Classics, and teaches in the liberal arts at St. John’s College and the U. S. Air Force Academy. She had an overwhelming conversion experience five years ago, and is just now learning to tell the story of her faith journey.