All posts by Dena Hunt


Every woman is a mother. It is not necessary to give birth to be a mother, nor is it necessary to adopt or foster children to be a mother. If you’re born female, you’re born a mother, and you’re going to mother someone or something. You have no choice in the matter—It’s like breathing. There are things about being a living human where freedom of choice is irrelevant.

If you don’t choose to marry and have children, you will mother something or someone else. You may become a teacher of other people’s children, and if you have not chosen to be a mother of your own children, you will mother those children. This often leads to predictable and very painful problems.

Avoiding children, you may very likely mother some man, but the trouble with mothering, as any mother can tell you, is that children tend to grow up.  You find yourself no longer needed. So you find another man to mother, and the cycle repeats itself. Perpetual mistresses are often caught in this repetitive trap.

Avoiding children, you may mother your friends. Again, however, you find that children grow up, and the close friendship you had with your friend vanishes when they no longer need mothering. Moreover, if you choose to mother friends, you will find that whatever problem they had with their own mothers will be projected onto you, and you will suffer their anger, distrust, or whatever negative feelings they have toward their mothers.

Avoiding children, you may prefer to become an entrepreneur, artist, writer, or some other kind of non-gender “creator” instead. The trouble here is that you’re over-protective of your creation-child. And rejections, failures, etc., tend to be infinitely more painful than they would be if you had children on which to project your maternal instinct. It’s like constant labor pains without the fruit of the pain.

This seems so unfair. Men don’t have such difficulty, as any feminist can tell you. And abortion does not alleviate any part of it. The pain only gets worse.

Perhaps it’s necessary to recognize that you’re not something apart from nature—no matter how well you try to keep nature at bay, with air-conditioning behind sealed glass, concrete buildings, and all the stuff we do to separate us from the rest of nature. You’re a part of nature, and all of nature is either male and female, and it was your (mis)fortune to fall into the female half. Accept it. Make peace with it. No rebellion, injections, surgeries, or legislation is going to change it.

If you find yourself pregnant, have the child, and if you don’t want to mother it yourself, let some other woman do it. Warning, however: You will not rid yourself of the maternal instinct your pregnancy hormones intensified. If you abort it, you will still suffer those effects, plus grief (worse because you don’t acknowledge it), plus, sooner or later, a remorse beyond your imagination.

Accept it. You’re a woman, and it is decreed by nature that, with or without children, you are a mother. Denying it only hurts you, and the collateral damage is horrific.

It may be that, although you’re a mother, God has ordained that you will be childless. In that case, there are steps you can take (also ordained by God). First, read Isaiah 54. Then look around and see what he has in mind for you to mother. Foregoing friends or emotionally immature men, there’s a world full of a need for mothering. There are the poor, there is nature (called by some “the environment”), there are animals, creatures abandoned, abused, and not least of all, if you’re Catholic, you could become a mother of a priest. Join the Spiritual Motherhood Society and adopt a priest. All priests deeply venerate the Blessed Mother, but on earth, they need a flesh-and-blood mother to pray for them, to have masses said for them on the anniversary of their ordination and their birthdays, a mother to care about them. After all, they are human and part of nature themselves. They have a Church-father in their bishop, but they don’t have a Church-mother. Be their mother. Care about them, pray for them—they need that.

The bottom line: If you’re a woman, you’re a mother. Who or what are you mothering?  

Loss and Gain

I’ve had at least one dog ever since the seventies, often as many as three but usually two. Because I did rescue, several of them did not have an especially long lifespan. I got them when they were sick or maimed, blind, deaf, or old, something that made them undesirable to others.

There are eight graves now in my backyard. I loved each of them, and the passing of each one grieved me. In fact, I tried to make it a rule never to have just one, because I knew that having another one to care for would lighten my grief at least a little. I noticed too how the remaining dog would react to the absence of the one who’d passed. It wasn’t any different. Like me, they would become more attached, need more affection. Seeing their response, I know that my own is part of nature.

The same response occurs with any kind of loss. We cherish what is left to us. Not just through death, but friendships lost through betrayal or atrophy, a job on which we’d become dependent as a part of us, a treasured object, and even such losses as identity, purpose, health, or dreams, goals, desires. The mutability of our lives is always spelled in loss. If age has any blessings—and it has—one of the greatest is learning the acceptance of loss.

For people who have no faith, love is a god. And if they have been fortunate enough to have a loving marriage, family, and friends, they are affirmed in their belief that human love constitutes all the meaning of life. But if they somehow lose everything they love, perhaps by outliving them all, they are devastated. It’s not uncommon among the elderly that a profound depression ensues, followed by serious illness and death or even suicide. I’ve seen films that attempt to address this loss by encouraging the consolation of memory.

But if I’ve learned anything about loss, I’ve learned that the only real consolation is gain. We turn to what is left to us because it’s our only choice, and if nothing is left, nothing is left.  Human lives are mortal, and so are human loves. Ultimately, we will lose our own lives; our physical bodies will die. But for people who have faith, this last loss will be the greatest gain of all: We will be reunited with all those we loved and there will never be loss again.

God teaches us gently, little by little, how to lose. We learn slowly that nothing was ever our own. Everything and everyone always belonged to him alone, and thus we learn gratitude, something that the secular world by its own definition can never teach us. We are grateful for the beloved’s presence in our lives, and as each loss happens, we find that he is closer to us, ever closer. That’s how the grief-stricken are comforted, and it’s how the poor in spirit receive the kingdom the heaven, for most blessed of all are those who lose everything except him.

It’s What You Give Up

A very long time ago when I was a grad student, the chair of our department was a man I much admired, not so much for his scholarly achievements as for himself. English Departments, at least back in those days, were full of crazy people. I was told by more than one faculty member that the reason Dr. Grove was made Chair was simply that he was unflappable. His serenity might have been the consequence of being the father of eight. I don’t know. I just know that whenever I had a serious question, he would give me a direct serious answer, without elaboration, amplification, or any sort of posturing or pontificating.

So one day when I was pondering (a lifelong habit, intensified in grad school), I asked him: What is freedom? He answered: It’s what you give up.

Boom. There it was. And there ended my existential angst.

I’ve never forgotten it. In one form or another, it has answered many questions I’ve asked about matters both great and small in all the years since that day. How many times, in the throes of agonizing decisions, has that single brief answer returned to me. I don’t want to do X, and I have the freedom to not do X. But I do X because I give up that freedom. Maybe I should be more specific: There’s a pint of Haagen Daz butter pecan in the freezer, and I am free to eat it. Or, I want to see him. He’s married. I have the freedom to keep seeing him. It’s what you give up. The peculiar thing about giving it up is that it always comes back to you, so each time you decide to give it up, it returns.

This happened almost ten years before I became a Christian. (But truth is like that. It’s recognizable by everybody who has ears to hear. That’s why there is art.) Ultimately, on a summer day in New Orleans in 1984, I gave it up for good. I became a Christian.

Since then, I’ve heard, read, a good deal of talk about “free will”, but that’s a phantasm. We have only one real freedom, and that is the freedom to bring our will into submission to His. Nothing else works—nothing.

The smiling little man who always looked like a happy chipmunk made one short statement in 1978, and then probably forgot about it. He couldn’t know it would change a life for all eternity.


Environment, Nature, and Creation

When I taught senior college-prep English in small-town Georgia public schools, I arranged the syllabus by literary movements. When we reached the romantic movement, and Wordsworth, I had the students bring a permission slip from home (necessary for leaving the campus) and took them on a short walk across the football field to a stretch along a creek of undeveloped pristine forest. I didn’t give them any explanation in advance but only instructed them that they were not allowed to speak during this time, but to follow in single file and be aware of the sounds, the smells, and the sights of their surroundings. When we returned to the classroom, still with no discussion or conversation, I wrote three words horizontally on the board: Environment, Nature, Creation. They were to choose one of the words as a title for a two-page essay that reflected their experience on the walk. The results were interesting. If I didn’t know my students by the time we reached romanticism, I knew them in reading their essays, as soon as I read their chosen titles.

Without over-classifying, and allowing for varied skill levels in writing, the essays’ contents followed a certain type: Environment essays were political, angry, activism-oriented. The Nature essays were emotional, sentimental. The Creation essays were faith expressions, even devotional.

All of these were actually romantic, romanticism being that mixture of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual psychic pubescence that visits every one of us sooner or later in our lives. If we avoid the romanticism in ourselves, it will come to wake us at 3:00 a.m. someday and leave us wondering what has happened to us. If it comes later in life, the consequences can be devastating, or at least, life-altering—for better or worse. If we use that experience to learn about ourselves better, a healthy maturation will result—even, or perhaps, especially—if the experience is a bad one. And that knowledge can save us from the downward gravitational pulls of addiction, violence, destructive relationships, and a number of other negative outcomes.

I never kept records on the subject, but sometimes I wish I had. It would be interesting to discover which groups went where in later years. I did notice that the division of titles was about equal: one third were Environment; one third, Nature; and one third, Creation. Only a couple of times, I got an essay with all three titles, followed by a thesis that how we look at creation, nature, or our environment, said nothing about any of those things but a lot about us. These were from “gifted” students and I suspect they were also the ones who would be awakened at 3:00 a.m. someday. One trait that is not romantic is objectivity.


Malice Unaware

A long time ago, a fellow teacher at a rural Georgia high school gave me a little booklet entitled “Pocket Prayers for Teachers.” I thumbed through the pages of platitudes of encouragement and exhortations to perseverance. One of the prayers caught my eye and has stayed with me to this day: A teacher sees the brutal ostracism of a child by his peers on the playground. She sees the pain in the child’s expression. Her prayer is that God will keep her from intervening, that she can accept his will in this situation. She acknowledges that everything in her urges her to stop the cruelty, but she knows that God has plans for that child, and perhaps the recurring experience of rejection is part of his plan. She prays for the strength not to interfere.

I’ve told a few persons about that prayer and they were shocked. Without exception, they felt that the teacher had a moral responsibility to correct the behavior. That was my initial reaction too. Now I see things differently.

At the time, I hadn’t yet read about René Girard’s theory of mimesis and scapegoating among primitive societies, about the sacred function of the innocent victim of collective hostility, though certainly any Christian would see Calvary re-enacted within this group of children. Nor is this kind of hateful cruelty confined to children, and certainly not to “primitive” societies. The truth is, we never lose our primitiveness, evolution notwithstanding; we just add layers of civilization, good manners and proper social behavior, etc., over a core of violence and cruelty underneath.

What could be the “will of God” that the prayer suggests in this little book? The malice of the group is blatant, overt, and demands correction by the teacher, though the group is unaware of itself, as each member in the group unreflectingly participates from the safety of individual anonymity. 

The will of God will meet, perhaps at some distant future date, the free will of the victim. The victim may take an automatic weapon to a school and shock the nation by shooting many students and teachers. The nation’s politicians will demand gun control, its expert social commentators will admonish people to beware of anyone who is a “loner,” anyone who is not part of the collective (thereby perpetuating the same event ad infinitum).

Or perhaps the victim will learn through his repeated pain that he can do another thing instead: he can forgive. If he does that, he will eventually be able to understand that “they know not what they do,” and learn to love as God loves. It’s the only way I know of to learn that.

Assent vs Belief

Something occurred recently that provided me a better understanding of the difference between converts and so-called “cradle” Catholics.

It was during a meeting of older parishioners, those groups commonly called by names like “Senior Catholics” or “Golden Agers” or “Young At Heart,” etc., groups where you might expect to hear laments of lost traditions. A woman in her eighties who serves as a Eucharistic minister bemoaned her observations of young people who, she said, “…don’t believe. I mean, they really don’t believe that it’s the real body and blood ….” I mentioned that they don’t really have to believe, what they have to do is assent to believe; that coming to believe, or to know, is actually a grace, not a criterion or some measure of their faith.

My comment didn’t do anything to make me more popular in the group, and I get it now that the purpose was to criticize, or just to mourn the lost traditional “have-to’s” that constituted the Catholic faith education of their youth. Nothing wrong with that. And it might be well argued that such is the privilege of the elderly. (I’m not totally sure I go along with that argument, however, since oppositional obstinacy is no more a privilege of the elderly than it is of the young—who can be just as stubbornly opinionated. I think it’s more characteristic of personality than it is of age.)

But it brings out something not much attended: the nature of grace, for one, and for another, the meaning of assent. I remember as a Southern Baptist child, being drilled repeatedly in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This was the criterion of faith, followed by the warning that if you don’t believe, you’re condemned. Well, I tried. I tried hard. I didn’t want to go to hell for not believing. Somewhere, sometime, I gave it up. I couldn’t help what I believed or didn’t believe. Slowly and silently, I faced the truth that I would go to hell, and even more silently, grew angry with a God who would condemn me to hell for something I couldn’t help.

Fast forward many decades: Learning the difference between assent and dissent, and learning the nature of grace. Faith as belief is a grace. We can’t earn it, gain it, no matter how hard we might pursue it. It is a grace, not an achievement. Grace comes from God, not from us. However, we can’t receive the gift unless we assent to it; i.e., unless we are willing to believe. Those who dissent are unwilling to believe, and therefore not open to receive the gift of faith. What is up to us is not whether to believe or not believe, but whether to be willing to believe.

The vast majority of those in communion lines assent to believe that what they will receive is the true body of Christ; thus they are able to say Amen when the priest says to each of them The Body of Christ. They may not fully believe, but they are willing to believe. And that’s enough. It’s all God asks of us. Sometimes they may have something like an experience of peace when they consume the body of Christ, and it’s a peace that is valid.

There are others who dissent, who are not willing to believe, their minds are made up, and their decision is final. It is they who, as St Paul says, “eat and drink their way to condemnation.” It is a blasphemy. And that’s the reason non-Catholics are not invited to consume the Holy Eucharist, not because they’re somehow excluded from the church (their exclusion is their own choice), but because, if they eat the body of Christ in dissent, in an unwillingness to believe, they condemn themselves. In their own interest of spiritual integrity, it is better to abstain.

We can’t help what we believe, but we can be open to belief—or not. Frankly, I think all the millions of Catholics who have gone to their graves after a lifetime of always being willing to believe and never having received the grace of fully believing may well be the greatest saints in heaven. It’s us hard-core types for whom grace was an absolute necessity who will be very blessed indeed just to get a seat somewhere in the back rows of that great assembly.

Morgan Freeman’s The Story of God

I’ve just finished what is commonly called a “Netflix binge,” which means I watched an entire series of shows. The Story of God had a two-season tenure with some nine episodes in all. I was surprised to enjoy it. I had expected something like the kind of show I saw several years ago during the height of the “historical Jesus” interest. I still remember the superior attitude of the narrator and his remark at the conclusion: “As near as anyone can tell, Jesus of Nazareth was an itinerant preacher, the son of a Judean stone-cutter,” followed by a smile of benevolent tolerance: “If he was more than that for some, well, that’s a matter of faith.” The condescension was profoundly offensive.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, each episode of The Story of God dealt with a theological/philosophical topic: the problem of suffering, life after death, heaven and hell, good and evil, and so on. Freeman visits various faiths for explications of these topics by traveling to locations associated with those faiths: Egypt, Israel, New Orleans, Rome, India, New York, Mecca, Africa, Australia, as well as his native Mississippi. He is respectful and interested, and expresses his own opinion from time to time. No particular faith is dealt with at any length, only insofar as the topic addressed for that episode. For what it is, it is very well done.

As democratic as the series is, it nevertheless provides an overarching thesis, overtly stated intermittently and conclusively: Our differences do not divide us but unite us. It was definitely “global fare,” and likely very gratifying for those who don’t align themselves with any religion but claim to be “spiritual.” His last episode was an interview with a woman who had an after-death experience and described it as “pure love”; she acknowledged no religious affiliation. Freeman agreed with her statement that God is simply love.

I enjoyed it, and found (almost) nothing arguable in the entire series. Except for that conclusive thesis. It’s all the same, it’s all love, and that’s all that matters anyhow. As consoling as that sounds, it’s a little problematic. Not because I believe there’s only one true faith, but because of something else: If there is no sin, there is no mercy, no forgiveness, and if there’s no chosen faith, there is no feeling of belonging to a community where your own beliefs are shared by others—i.e., no culture, and ultimately no real community. The thesis is an articulation of John Lennon’s famous “Imagine” reality: no country, no religion, no heaven, no hell, etc., just people living in peace together. The idea that people would live together in peace if we just eradicated religions and countries is a fantasy. People who seek differences as a cause for war and violence will only find other differences to justify their actions. It’s the illogic that says we can eliminate racism by eliminating races, or we can eliminate sexism by eliminating the sexes. In other words, we can eliminate intolerance by eliminating those things that require tolerance—that is, anything or anyone different from us. We don’t have to tolerate difference if we just eliminate difference.

I am reminded of an incident in an undergrad literary survey course when a professor authoritatively pronounced, “So you see that there are no answers!” After a moment of silence, a student tentatively raised his hand: “Well, it doesn’t seem like there are no answers, sir. It seems like there are a whole lot of them. You just have to choose one. That’s the hard part. Kind of like choosing one girl when there are so many. But it turns out pretty quick that if you don’t choose one of them, you don’t get any of them.”

Getting (Being) Old

People, we hear, are living longer. That’s not true. While it is true that more people live to old age, “old age” itself has not changed its number definition. Eighty was old fifty years ago and it’s still old. (Ask anyone who’s eighty.) The psalm is still on target today when it says our lifespan is seventy, “or eighty for those who are strong.” The number is no higher now than it was 2500 years ago.

When we have memory lapses, become slower in our steps and prone to more aches and pains, we say we’re “getting old.” Not so. We’re old. We just don’t like to say so. “Getting” implies that old age is coming, but the truth is that it has arrived. In fact, it arrived a good while back.

You might think that the reason we’re in this kind of absurd, self-mocking denial is that we don’t want to be old. That’s not true either. Being old actually has its perks—people defer to you (sometimes), concern themselves about you a little bit (sometimes), forgive you for tardiness, technological illiteracy, forgetfulness, crankiness; and all this social slack-cutting is in addition to the fact that you may now spend some of that money you’ve been saving for the future—the future is now. And you can sleep in too, if you want to.

No, we don’t really mind being old. What we do mind is what we don’t mention so much—to other people, to each other, or even to ourselves: We don’t want to die. And old age is the last stop before the end of the line. It’s a good thing we can sleep in because a lot of us have no choice: insomnia is the most common geriatric complaint. Old people are not able to sleep because they don’t want to “sleep.”

What do we think about, talk about, in our waking hours? There’s an awful lot of dieting, exercising, power-walking and such. Lots of vitamins and supplements. We spend so much of our little time remaining trying to extend our little time remaining that we waste the little time remaining to us. Back in the 70s, a guest on a talk show boasted that his daily multi-mile jog had extended his life by seven years. The host—I believe it was Dick Cavett—responded, “Yes, but you spent seven years running.”

Some people become obsessed with their health. Attending their health becomes a full-time occupation, and they work overtime. We no longer have “a doctor”; we have a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, an ophthalmologist, a urologist, and that’s just a few of the doctors we have on our appointment calendars.

In a spurt of reality-thinking, we go to a lawyer and draw up documents: a will, an “advance directive” or “living will” or the now-popular list of “5 Wishes,” and a financial power of attorney in case we become debilitated before we become dead. We purchase burial plots, coffins, funeral services. All this is expensive, but the high cost allows us to feel that we’ve bitten the reality-bullet about dying.

Not so. Once we’ve done all the practical stuff, insomnia returns, a new pain or a strange mole or something else has us calling another specialist, or we sign up for yet another yoga, tai chi, or exercise class. Perhaps contemplate a vegan diet. Maybe that little reality break wasn’t all we needed. Maybe we need to “get right with God.” We go to daily Mass, we try to make amends for all the wrongs we’ve done in the past, pray for the souls in purgatory and have Masses said for them, spend lots of hours in church volunteering. We work at getting right with God. We pursue interior peace (never recognizing the contradiction).

Being old is a lot of work. But we may, with God’s grace, get tired. Fatigue may release us from compulsively attending every Mass, from constant vocal prayer recitations, from all the feverish efforts to earn his favor and our salvation. We may even be blessed with the insight that all we do for him, for others, is really for us. And not just lately, but all our lives.

And we are so tired. It’s too late now to live our lives over. Our bodies are worn out and frail. Our minds are tired and our hearts are weary beyond bearing. Our one desire now is rest. And so, at last we surrender—we surrender our labor, our life, everything—for that precious rest we know is possible only in him. It’s then that we begin to live, and we begin to wish that we’d been old all our lives . . . .

Evolution of God 

Atheists are fond of suggesting that we create God in our own image. In fact, the mean old white-bearded god of judgment learned in some people’s childhood is the reason they give for dismissing belief in God. (Actually, of course, any reason will do if you decide not to believe.) But it does seem that as we evolve, so does God.

He seems so much more complicated as we age. We can perhaps remember, as children, our idea of God was so simple. We can smile at the memory of our innocent wonder of “Him,” a child’s wonder at all the universe, all the life around us, from the view of our own new life, of which we were just becoming aware, the very newness of our own being. He was Father—of all this, all life, of us. As we grew, so did he. We matured in our own understanding of “father”; a loving disciplinarian, he “chastened” us because he loved us. This was our understanding of Our Father, our Sire, that source of life in whom we lived and moved and had our being. He was big and powerful, protecting us, his beloved children.

In the same way, we understood our Mother, who fed and nurtured us in unconditional love; she was obedient and submissive to Father and taught us the same obedience and submission. Indeed, it was in her submission that we were conceived. And so we understood that too as a source of life, mysterious though it was. To be disobedient was to thwart life and deform us, and lead us to a life of darkness and loss of our father’s kingdom.

There are those who outgrew their father. They became smarter, bigger, stronger than he was, and just so, they outgrew God. Because they were smarter than he was, they became their own authority, humanists. And they outgrew their mother as well. They became wiser, more free than she was, and ironically controlled by their unacknowledged worship of phallic power, they became stronger than she was. Despising what they saw as her weakness, they became feminists. They outgrew faith in anything except themselves and their own ideas.

But, even if we didn’t have a temporal ideal father or mother, whether we were blessed with an idyllic childhood of unified parents or not, we still knew, because we are part of nature and all of nature followed the same pattern: God was heaven, mother was earth, and all of life was the fruit of that union, the trinity of nature that depends utterly on the union of heaven and earth, father and mother. We understood the mystery of the seeming death in submission as the necessary condition for life. It was not hard to perceive the resurrection as the unmistakable sign of life’s continuity because of that necessary surrender to the Father’s will, even on a cross.

For that reason, we can understand why our Lord told Martha that her sister Mary had chosen the one thing necessary. In our Christian life, we find, sometimes only painfully slowly, that the one thing necessary is submission to his will, not to win our own complicated arguments about whether he is a he/she/it or about what we think his will might be. For Christian faith is composed of listening, another word for prayer. No theories, no human ideas of activism—of body or of intellect—can supersede that one thing necessary. Nothing can displace the primacy of that necessary condition of all life, and of life eternal. It is the very state in which our blessed Mother lived her life, in wordless pondering of his will in her heart. His mother, his sister, his brother are those who do his father’s will. No one understood that better than she.

From the primeval days of the infancy of our humanity, when God was the mountain, the big and powerful and remote mountain, to the days of our pagan adolescence when the sun was father-God and the earth was mother, we evolve and mature in direct proportion to our spiritual growth. And eventually, in old age, perhaps, we understand that nothing of our early grasp has changed at all, only deepened and expanded. It really is simple, after all. We are still children—but now, in joyful and grateful humility, so very glad to be! Finally understanding that our true strength comes in our weakness and our true freedom comes in that submission and obedience, we are plagued no longer with restless desires for more.

And in moments of meditative listening, we know that as our own science has learned, nothing ever goes away in nature, but only changes, so it is in super-nature. As it has always been from the beginning, so it is from our own beginning.  We know enough about him only when we know that we will never know him—not now, not in this life. And we are content to see through a glass darkly, content to listen, to obey, to submit to our own love for him and to his love for us. Until we see him as he is.

A Good Man

A man I admire, a deacon, recently told me that he sees Christ in every person he encounters. He seemed surprised when I answered that I did not. I said that I saw Christ in someone’s character or condition—like their loving nature, or their innocence (not to be confused with naiveté)—or perhaps in their “story,” the events of their lives, etc. “You see like a writer,” he said. Well, maybe. But when I look at other people, I see—or try to see—them.

My Baptist mother had a sort of gift for seeing. I remember her quiet little predictions about some person or other, which were inevitably realized. Examples: A man was behaving a little differently and my mother said, He’s having an affair. Turns out, he was. Everyone was shocked except my mother.  She could tell when anyone was lying (except me—blind as a bat where I was concerned). Sometimes she could even tell when someone was gravely ill, just by looking at them. And even—I remember, once it happened—she could tell when someone was going to die soon. She could see goodness and badness in other people when there was no outward sign of either. She saw what she called “little black scurrying things running along the baseboard” when my uncle was having a very hard time with his pain and anger, following a divorce when all his five children abandoned him. I don’t remember her ever seeing Christ in other people. But she loved Christ deeply and talked to him in her sleep, thanking him, loving him.

I’m reminded of St Peter who saw the duplicity in two of the newly-formed Christians who lied about bringing “all they had” to the collective treasury. Or St (Padre) Pio, who could read souls and was known to refuse absolution to some penitents.

The good man I admire so much referred to my “inability” to see Christ in others. The term has a negative judgmental connotation, and I was a little hurt by it  It’s not the first time we’ve disagreed about something or other, and, come to think of it, it’s always been about other people. But here’s the thing: He gets up before dawn and drives many miles over dirt roads in order to set up Exposition in the chapel for the handful of people who like to visit before going to work. He does this without complaint, despite the fact that there’s another deacon and a priest right next door to the chapel. And he stays, of course, in case all adorers leave, for the scheduled two and a half hours, in case someone else wants to visit. He visits the sick in the hospital, takes Holy Communion to whoever asks, runs the RCIA program, preaches homilies whenever asked, and visits a reclusive old lady like me once a month to talk, sometimes for a couple hours or more.

I don’t see Christ when I look at other people, but I think I can understand that for those whose lives are utterly dedicated to service, that may be a necessity—as Mother Teresa said of all those whom she encountered on the streets of Calcutta. But I’ve also seen Mother Teresa’s expression in photos with Princess Diana and others who sought photo-ops with her, and then I believe she could see others as my Baptist mother saw them.

How we see things, including other people, doesn’t say anything about what we see, but it says a lot about us. My mother’s sight was a gift, and I think my friend the deacon’s sight is a choice he’s made. There’s a difference, to his credit rather than to hers. Imagination gets mingled into my vision, and I don’t trust my own sight of real people. I know better than to trust my own judgment. But when I see my friend the deacon, though I don’t see Christ, I do see a good man, a just man, in the Hebrew sense of that term. And those who know about that term will know that it’s rare, a treasure in God’s sight.