During my childhood, I was aware of only six relatives on my father’s side beyond his siblings’ families. It seemed as if the Delessios popped onto the planet from nowhere. They were Italian—I knew that much—but the first generation ditched their names and kept quiet about the past; my great-grandmother abandoned Catholicism when one Sunday she took the Eucharist and returned to her pew to find her purse gone. My dad’s generation never learned the language or the family recipes or anything about their heritage except the sketchiest of stories: My uncle was born frozen on the stoop. We weren’t really Italians, we were Albanians. After my great-grandfather’s first wife died, he ordered a second one by mail. He spoke Muschitan, a name that sent us into hysterics because surely someone made it up. (more…)
Years ago, when flakes of old paint began falling on choir members’ heads, the trustees of my small United Methodist Church spearheaded a fund-raising campaign by parading around the pews carrying signs saying, “Repaint! The time is at hand!” I’m happy to say that moment was the closest to a call for repentance I’ve ever experienced in church.
The trustees’ joke returned to me recently because Emily and I took five days off of work to repaint our stairwell. (more…)
If you’ve happened to walk past our house on a Saturday around seven p.m., chances are good you considered calling child protection. Judging from Gwyn’s screams, that’s our weekly time for torture. In fact we’re just washing her hair—once a week is frequent enough, thank you. There have been times when Gwyn’s anxiety about hair-washing was so extreme, she began worrying about the next shampoo while her hair was still wet. We tried washing around swimming goggles. We asked Gwyn’s birth mom to share how much she hated hair-washing as a child. Once we called an older neighbor kid to come hold her hand, hoping peer support might help. We talked with a therapist about toddler anxiety.
Shortly before Easter, when Gwyn was playing with a watering can in the bathtub and began pouring water over her head, I raised my eyebrows but kept my mouth wisely shut. “Mama, I’m a flower,” she said. “Will you water me?” Why, of course! I tipped the spout. A stream of blessed water hit her hair and she began to rise, her beautiful porcelain skin emerging from the tub, her arms stretching toward a pretend sun, her fingers unfurling until my daughter was gloriously, nakedly in bloom. I “fertilized” her hair and she wanted to grow all over again, the suds pouring over her body, her face beatific. With her arm-petals open, Gwyn was a picture of prayer.
Easter’s a grand rebirth, life conquering death and all, but most days for most people are simpler and smaller, most sin that needs saving is minor, and sometimes I find the translation tough. Gwyn’s bath-time resurrection released her from fear. Torment turned into grace. While I might point to contributing factors—her vivid imagination, her age, her increasing love of water—at the core of this transformation is a tiny Easter. Moments like this, full of divine rebirth, surround us like the flowers of spring, and for these I praise God.
A month ago on a long drive to Madison Emily taught me to darn socks. Basically you sew along the circumference of the hole, warp it like a loom and then weave. Darning thread is comprised of four strands so you don’t have to be precise about moving in and out. It’s surprisingly, ridiculously, easy.
Ever since, I’ve been (dare I admit it?) ecstatic. Emily and I are reluctant to throw away quality goods (anyone want ten Styrofoam medical coolers?), so my darning abilities now mean that the pile of Smart Wool socks with holes accumulating in our mending basket will finally vanish. I’m suddenly rich in socks. I’ve achieved a new and satisfying level of self-sufficiency. By recovering a small skill that’s been forgotten for a few generations, every time I get dressed I can thumb my nose at disposable consumerism. What could be better?
As I revel in my resurrected socks, my warm feet have been walking me through their theological implications. With a little skill and a little effort, I can participate in giving the dead new life. Okay, perhaps this is dramatic, but there’s a stitch of truth here: We all have within us the holy capacity to find what was once lost, to mend that which was torn, to bring life, in however humble a way, to that which was lifeless. Something about our willingness makes God’s work possible through us. When we experience resurrection on a small scale, with socks or a garden plot or a friendship, we know its truth on a big scale, with the planet’s health or the well-being of our own souls. There’s continuity between the details and universal truths.
When stores are stocked with socks and swiping a piece of plastic can make them yours, it’s easy to forget our resurrection capacities. But new life isn’t something that simply happens, deus ex machina. It’s something we participate in. Next time you see me, I’d be happy to show off the evidence.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew