“While it is true that God is a hidden presence, we have only to let nature speak to us about the God who is everywhere.”
Henri Nouwen, “Discernment”
“Whoa! That’s a big bird!” Violet spotted it first. I turned, dropped my oatmeal spoon, pushed my chair back. The two closest to the patio door stood on their chairs and turned around to watch it glide north, all white head, brown body, yellow beak. “Eagle!” they cried. My heart beat faster; a second before I’d been eating oatmeal, and — an eagle!
We’ve seen the eagle fly over the river before, but never when we stood this far back from the river bank. How often has he flown by, hidden by the oaks that grow along the river bank?
Do you see what I see?
“Fall’s just practicing for winter.” Violet’s been repeating that line all week — as kids have an ear for repeatable phrases, that one stuck as she’s trying to meld her 4-year-old’s understanding of winter with Mom saying winter’s not here yet, despite appearances. Snow was up to her shins this week, and still I said, “Not yet. Not yet.” On Thursday, it was so cold the curtains froze to the frost on the inside of the patio doors, and yet here was I: “No, not yet. This isn’t winter yet.”
The Midwest can be deceiving; but the Midwestern not-yet winter is chock full of meaning, always. Everything’s slowed, even the river, even my running, even my energy. And everything shows: Winter, or nearly winter, doesn’t allow for hiding; it’s hard to pretend I’m the only one in the woods: footprints in the slush prove a man and a dog were recently headed the same way. Birds that were hidden in summer are back on display: the cardinals bold, the wrens chipper; the eagle big. Animals’ tracks in the snow give away the deer and squirrels; my own tracks going off-path in the woods today led right to the river’s edge, where I sat and wondered, and wondered. Why do I like to look toward where the water’s come from, and not in the direction it’s heading? I wonder a lot.
Do you see what I see?
That carol’s been in my head all day, since I decided snow on the hiking trails called for Christmas music. I stopped on a bridge and noticed circles and waves in the thin ice. Do you see what I see? It’s a haunting phrase when Sufjan Steven sings it; it doesn’t sound like a wind or a lamb or whatever asking it — it sounds like God asking me to look closely. Closer.
If the eagle were there all summer and I hadn’t seen it until it got bald-bare and cold, there’s a chance fall-practicing-for-winter is another way God winks at us, pulls back the curtain an inch: “Do you see what I see?” No, not all the way. Show me.
In the season of not-yet winter, of not-yet Advent, of not-yet writing chapter 1, of not-yet finding out about Dave’s job; of not-yet, not-yet: in that, God’s speaking. It’s kind of like Him asking if we notice what He notices, and the answer’s always “Not all the way,” and sometimes “I wish I could.” The pieces I’ve scrambled together, the things God’s made clear, are the pieces I can hold in my hand: The first block of a quilt that came together with some help from a friend; each square the bearer of a story of where we’ve been. And in my lap, a copy of “Pride and Prejudice.” On my calendar, a weekly dinner with friends. It’s Alice counting nine blocks of a quilt by five of one color, and four of another, just like the abacus in her math lesson — ahhh. It’s that, and more: homemade soup in my belly, for one.
All the pieces that look like home here, even if I want to move south. Not venomous-snake-south, just mild, Kentucky south. (God says no, not yet.)
All the pieces look like “This is exactly where I’d have you.” All the pieces look like “Even if he doesn’t get the job, even if the heating bill is $550 again, even if the book is horrible, the quilt is crooked, and you never find that goose-down parka — even in all that, you are exactly in this moment where I put you, and you’re loved. Do you see what I see?”