Julian of Norwich, the great English anchorite and theologian, cited, in the manner of the prophets, these words from God: "See, I am God: see, I am in all things: see, I never lift my hands off my works, nor ever shall, without end. . . . How should anything be amiss?" But now not even the simplest and best of us sees things the way Julian did. It seems to us that plenty is amiss. So much is amiss that I must consider the second fork in the road, that creation itself is blamelessly, benevolently askew by its very free nature, and that it is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss. The frog that the giant water bug sucked had, presumably, a rush of pure feeling for about a second, before its brain turned to broth. I, however, have been sapped by various strong feelings about the incident almost daily for several years.
Dillard is writing about a scene she witnessed that becomes a central image in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Near the beginning of the book, Dillard, staring at a frog in the shallows of Tinker Creek, sees a little frog literally dissolve into a balloon of skin. The life of the frog drains before her eyes, skull and muscles turning into broth. The culprit of this apocalypse? The Giant water bug (that's its real name). This insect attaches itself to creatures like frogs, injects enzymes and poisons into its victim, and, basically, liquefies it.
These kinds of things happen in nature all the time. There is no bad or good. There is simply survival and oblivion. Humans are the ones that struggle with emotions over episodes like this (Dillard keeps returning to it through her entire book). Of course, humans are a little more complex than insects and amphibians. Built into our very beings are conscience and empathy. That's why Dillard feels bad for the little frog deflating before her. She assigns human feelings to an event that has been occurring, probably, for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
So, where is God in all this? I'm not sure about the answer to that question. Like Julian of Norwich, I believe that God is in all things. Nothing is amiss when God is in control. The frog becomes soup for the water bug because that's God's plan for it. However, it becomes more difficult to see God's plan in things like the Brussels terrorist attacks of this past week or my sister's death from lymphoma of the brain last August. Those kinds of things seem, to us little blobs of protein and plasma, without meaning or direction. They seem to indicate a universe without divine guidance or control.
As I've said before in this blog, the world is a broken place. God didn't break it. We did. God does not make bombs that explode in subways or plant mutating cancer cells in a person's head. Those things are the result of the human experiment gone awry. It's what we do with events like this, how we respond to them, that fills the God-shaped hole left behind.
It's unfortunate that, for a lot of people, it takes tragedy to tear the curtain enough for God to peek through. On this Holy Saturday, I'm going to keep my eyes open, look for God in all things, like Julian of Norwich. In the yellow grass of my lawn. In the wind on my face. My wife's laugh. Pizza sauce on my son's face. My daughter's eye rolls. It's all blessing.
The darkness is ending, folks. Easter is on the way.
Saint Marty just hopes he doesn't end up on the wrong end of a Giant water bug.