My dog Stella went out hunting in our back yard last Friday. We watched her tear through the melting snow, disappearing out back behind the barn. We saw her reappear, crouch low, army-crawl, and then leap spectacularly high, dash forward and disappear again. When she emerged, she had, clutched between her teeth, a limp, fully grown rabbit, almost half as big as she is. A wealth of mixed emotions filled our kitchen, as we witnessed this ancient drama. Sadness over the death of the rabbit, whom we’ve known for years as our occasional spinach thief, and either the mother or progeny of the other rabbits we see at various times. Also amazement that little Stella–or any dog for that matter–could actually succeed in catching a rabbit. Wasn’t it well understood that dogs would chase squirrels and rabbits but never catch them? Yet here she was, trotting around our half-acre lot in large arcs, like Achilles circling Troy with Hector’s poor body dragging behind. While this went on (for hours!), Tom and I gave ponderous, slightly bewildered homilies on the circle of life, and the realities of being a carnivore. The kids weren’t as phased as we; once they understood that some animals must murder to live, they just accepted it as a given in life; a layer of asphalt paved over the road they’d previously known. Later, they came back from their exploration of the killing grounds with reports of eyeball sightings and the like. Stella tried to bring the rabbit’s head into the kitchen, but fortunately Tom stopped her.
I have been thinking recently that everything in my own personal theology boils down to love and containers. When people ask me what God is, or who God is, I can only come up with these two analogies. Love is all around us. It’s in the air we breathe, bountiful, nourishing. It’s the food that grows on this planet–the beautiful grains and vegetables and fruits as well as the violence of animals killing animals. (Certainly a mama lion fetching meat for her cubs is all about love). It’s the exchange of compassion across a room when we catch a friend’s kind gaze, letting us know that we’re being seen and understood. It’s the moment with your child when you give up trying to educate and just hold her close until her storm passes. It’s the power that builds a building, and it’s the force that restores it when the building’s been burned to the ground. It’s everywhere. Our job is to notice it; to be present to it; to see it working (it’s always working) in our own lives. And once we see it work, it’s our job to keep it going; to give it back.
Containers are how I catch that love. They’re how I stay present. Because I am a very spacey, disorganized person by nature, and it takes a lot of structure for me to not just daydream my life away, I have containers of time to do various things: practice my instruments, write my songs and books, do yoga, go for my runs, play with my kids, do the things which bring income to my family. Containers work for me, remarkably well. With containers, I can find that narrow Way between chaos on the one hand and rigidity on the other. But sometimes I forget that the containers are there to contain love, and I become, as St. Paul said, the clanging gong. Sometimes I miss the point and think that God is the container. And so I get anxious about the fact that my little container called violin practice, or my little container called “what my kids should wear to school” is not being filled the way I think it should be. I get mad at the kids for not containing their sweet selves the way I think they should. (Though I no longer yell at my kids. I gave it up. Seriously. It’s been way quieter around here.) My way of getting mad now looks like me sitting very still with my eyes scrunched shut. “What are you doing, Mama,” one of them asks me with trepidation. “Praying,” I mutter through my gritted teeth. But they can tell I am still mad, even though I am not yelling. It’s good that I don’t yell, for one, because the not yelling affords me a few minutes to sit and think about the consequences of the discarding of whatever container my kids are refusing to be contained by. And so what? So violin practice isn’t going to happen the way I wanted. So my daughter is going to wear sweat pants to school–again. So my son is going to wear pants with holes ripped in the knees. So we are going to be late to school. So what.
Love is all around, as the Mary Tyler Moore theme song taught us back in the 70s. It really is. I may need my containers to catch it, but my kids don’t. They need me to be their container. They need me to stop trying to feel OK by checking off my boxes; they need to see that they can have their big uncontained feelings and that I will let them. I will hold those feelings, along with them. I can’t rationalize to my own satisfaction why a mother bunny can be murdered by our well-fed husky-mix, or why people I love get cut down far too young by disease or disaster or carelessness. I can’t make it fair between my two kids no matter how hard I try. I can’t make the world fair. I can’t even stay present all the time. But on the days I can, I am modeling for them how they can learn to do this for themselves.