By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
I consider myself a lover of liturgical seasons. I might even go as far as to call myself a geek. I love the rhythm of it in my body. The way it coincides with the changing earthly seasons. The cries for justice and stillness and singing and baking. I love it all!
Yet, I have never understood Lent. I can get it with my head, but I don’t feel it in my body. I haven’t found traditions or practices that summon me deeper.
So, I began the season this year with the question “what do you love about Lent?” I threw it out in trusted circles and on social media. I didn’t have a lot of capacity to try much, but I could spend the season listening. I scratched down quotes in the margins of notebooks. I collected wisdom and words.
It wasn’t until after Easter when Erinn was tearfully sharing a story to a beloved Lectio circle that began “On Easter, we went on a hike with the kids….,” that suddenly I saw what had been before me. I had spent the last months unknowingly walking a Lenten and Easter journey. And here again, it was my own kid who was teaching me about the movement from pain, grief, and repentance into hope, joy, and life.
In late February, I was shoveling snow while Isaac (8 years old) was digging an impressive snow fort. He had silently been working on it for more than an hour. As I paused to adjust my hat and mittens, he said “Mommy, I love nature so much. More than anything. I would go to jail for my whole life if it meant that nature could be free and never harmed again.” I stood there holding some sacred silence. Gratitude and grief poured into my being as I held these words that articulated both deep love and heartbreak in my child. Yet I was also witnessing a beautiful desire within him to do something.
In the days that followed, his grief grew. He talked a lot about climate change and pollution. He began to share more and more how it was people who were harming the earth. He even began to wonder aloud if the world would have been better if humans never existed. He walked with deep sadness. Erinn and I started to worry about his heart. It looked more like depression than we had ever seen in him. We tended to his heart creating space for his pain and holding him close.
The seasons slowly shifted. Robins came home. Sap began to flow. And Isaac continued to feel a deep connection to all the creatures and creation around him. One afternoon, we decided to tap our maple tree and he burst into tears about the pain the tree would feel as we drilled through the bark. As we walked the neighborhood, we had to take the long way as not to disturb the robins as they feasted on worms for “how would you feel if you were just in the middle of eating and someone interrupted you?”
Then on Palm Sunday, we were out scouting for crocus buds under the bird feeders, and there amidst the fallen seedling shells, we found a sparrow lying on the ground. Isaac scooped up the bird in his hands. He sat on the porch and held that bird for hours loving them through their final hours. Tweeter is now buried in the spot we found him under a circle of daffodil bulbs.
The heaviness in his heart continued. And then on Easter morning, we went for a hike. As we got out of the car, Isaac refused to wear his shoes. Erinn and I pleaded with him assuming he would regret it when we hit the rocks and twigs. But he was clear. He made him bring them just in case.
He stepped with bare feet onto that trail and within minutes, Erinn and I looked at each other both seeing Isaac walk a little lighter. He moved with gentleness and delight. He stopped to admire the turtles and organized moments of solitude for us each in the woods. He said, “when I don’t wear shoes, I can feel the earth better. I can communicate better with the earth.”
And indeed, he hasn’t put on shoes since (unless on bike or in a store). He has had to negotiate at his homeschool pod how to deal with coming inside on muddy days.
I don’t know exactly what shifted in him that day, but something did. No doubt all the pain and grief still resides in his heart, but it has given way to joy and intimacy. He pushes us to spend more time in the woods. He is full of delight and laughter.
A couple weeks ago, I unexpectedly found myself up with him past bedtime making dozens of sugar cookies in preparation for his newly declared favorite day of the year! Earth Day! As we frosted them to look like the view of earth from outer space, he said “I thought since my name was Isaac and my name means laughter that I was meant for jokes and that April fools would be my favorite holiday. But really I am made for the earth. I love Earth Day more than my birthday!”
This kid has a way of tugging at my heart. With life full of all the pandemic shifts, we didn’t talk much about Lent or even Easter in our house this year. But as if the seasons are also rooted intuitively in his body, he walked us through them anyway. We held space for silence and grief acknowledging our own participation in the crucifixion happening all around us. And then somehow, despite the pain, we were able to walk into the woods with hearts full of love and life and even laughter.
Thank you Isaac, for yet again, being my teacher. Your voice was the one I needed to hear. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. To earth we shall return. I am learning to take off my shoes and touch the earth.
Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is editor of Geez magazine and The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World.