By Michelle Francl-Donnay
This I believe: I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. – Ps. 27:13
Two summers ago, on an early morning drive to camp, Chris made up a song. “Nothing but trees, feel the growth, waaa-ooooo….” That’s it. The whole song. Now imagine listening to it from the King of Prussia exit all the way to Downingtown.
Intent on simultaneously threading my Mini Cooper through the tractor-trailers on the Pennsylvania turnpike and the backseat peacekeeping duties that come with any long drive with kids, the drive rarely seemed as dull to me as it clearly did to Chris. All he could see of the world at 65 mph was a smudged blur of unrelieved green.
A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Lens blog invited photographers all around the world to capture a single moment in time – 11 a.m. EDT May 2 – wherever you might find yourself, or decide to be. My oldest son Mike and I are both avid photographers and were determined to be part of the project.
Mike biked back to our parish church at the appointed hour, capturing its steeple and rose window rising into a brilliant blue sky. (If you find his photo in the 14,000 tacked to the virtual globe – let us know!)
Me? I was breezing down I-80, returning from a weekend away with my husband. Nothing but trees – I felt Chris’ pain.
As the moment approached, I began hoping for a miracle to emerge from behind the screen of leaves: a sweeping pastoral view perhaps – a red barn nestled amid rolling green fields, with a sheep or two set like gems on the hillside – or a caravan of colorful trucks snaking down the road ahead. Instead we sped through a verdant tunnel.
As I watched, still hopeful, I began to realize that while the view wasn’t changing, my perceptions were. What had been hidden behind a façade of sameness was gradually growing more richly textured. I noticed the soft colors in the gravel scattered along the roadside and the bright colors adorning the white bags caught in the brush, like elfin laundry flapping in the breeze. Inspanidual leaves flicked into focus, ultimately revealing a lush tangle of trees, small and large, in full leaf and bare branches tinged a faint green.
I had my miracle view; it just wasn’t the one I had been coveting. In her novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” Willa Cather reminds me that miraculous landscapes are more often encountered in what is already in front of us: “The miracles of the church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”
Eleven came and went and I shot a series of photos through the open window, turning my lens to capture what the last few minutes had unveiled for me.
When I got home, Mike and I sorted through our pictures. Mike had image after sharp image of the solidly grounded church. And mine? Every one was a blur of trees or macadam. The only clear photo was of me – accidentally caught reflected in the side view mirror. The crispness of what I had seen was for the eyes of the living alone, unable to be captured by the camera’s unfeeling optics. The only clarity was in my eyes.
Like the psalmist, I believe that I shall see the good things of God here and now – not only in some heavenly landscape to come. And at least for one moment in time, I had the eyes to see what is undoubtedly right in front of me all the time. What miracles have been unveiled for you of late?
Most holy God, the earth is filled with your glory, and in your presence angels stand in awe. Enlarge our vision, that we may recognize your power at work in your Son and join the apostles and prophets as heralds of your saving word. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. -Opening prayer for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.