Many afternoons during my elementary school years, my mother would yell “SARAH!” from the kitchen when she realized I had brought home yet another dead chipmunk in my lunchbox and left it on the counter.
Bringing dead chipmunks I found on the way home from school made complete sense to me. I was a preacher’s kid, and they clearly needed burial. But to my mother—not so much. It meant that on a very tight budget she would need to buy me yet another lunch box.
At that age, I lacked the language to explain why I was doing this. It just made sense to me. I had a connection with these animals, and I needed to bury them in my mother's front bushes...
And I always felt a connection to animals. I have this vivid memory from one of my father's churches. On the side of the church property was a large, wooded area we played in with the other curious church kids. Affectionately named the Bunny Woods, it held a special place in the hearts and minds of our group and was where we were for most of our play. So imagine our confusion when immense yellow construction vehicles showed up there, and the trees began to show up on the ground! Extremely upset, I asked Dad what was going on. To me, this was “God’s land” and how dare anyone hurt it, taking the homes away from our prized bunnies.
I then got an introduction to real estate development. But fear not, I had the answer. Raiding the church supply closet with our assembled child warriors, my sister and I created oak tag and construction paper signs—pulling out all the stops by using the extremely precious glitter--demanding, “Save the Bunny Woods” and proclaiming, “Jesus Loves Bunnies!”
Of course, the real estate development machine continued, and we lost the Bunny Woods. This event had a profound effect on me. “How could God let this happen to our bunnies?” I cried.
As I got older, these types of events continued around me. And I was told things like: “They are just animals. These things happen. That is progress.” Or even “God made us to be dominion over the animals. They are here for our use.” Yikes. So I began to put a force field around myself. Increasingly, I felt unconnected to those around me as I tried to hide what I felt.
Then I met the man who would become my husband. We were driving one day and he smacked his right hand over his heart. Now, he’s a bit older than I am, and I thought, “My God, he’s having a heart attack. This relationship is never going to work.” And I said nervously, “Are you ok?” To which he replied, “I’m sending my gratitude to Spirit for the life of that animal.” I looked out the window and realized excitedly… he means that dead animal! That roadkill!” And I realized I had just connected with my soul mate.
Of course, I promptly adopted the practice. And we became a couple of driving heart-smackers. But then one day, we were driving along and after I had smacked my right hand over my heart, my husband grinned, looked at me, and said, “Um, Sarah? That was a tire.” I blushed a bit in embarrassment, and then luckily came out with the response, “Um, Sean? Yeah, I know. That was my blessing for the Earth, and the trash that covers her.” And we both kinda giggled.
But when I look at this in hindsight, there is a deep lesson in it. We go about our days, from here to there, this seemingly important task to that seemingly very important task. But how often do we stop to see the wonder of creation? And on the flipside, to say a prayer for hopes of healing it. For the life of that animal on the side of the road. Or that gully filled with trash that is polluting our planet?
There is a sacred connection that underlies everything. And I think the first step in healing Creation is to see this connection. When we see the big things—the rainbow after a storm, the soaring mountains of Machu Picchu, a newborn baby—we see the awe of Creation, its beautiful wonder is hard not to see. But the challenge now is to see that wonder in the small things of our lives, in the hard times, the sad times, the painful times.
I don’t mean here to look forward with faith to a time when those moments will have passed. To the rosy future. To some sort of future reward for belief. But to be deeply in the moment, and ask ourselves, “How can I co-create with the Universe here, to bring wonder into this moment? What seemingly small thing can I do today to bring the awe of Creation into this hard time for myself, my family, my neighbor, or the world at large?”
Today I challenge you: What can you do so that at the end of your day, you can profess “it was good.”
Read more from Sarah Bowen in Void if Detached: Seeking Modern Spirituality Through My Father's Old Sermons.