Fireflies and the Presence of God

Our Education for Ministry (EfM) group had an interesting theological reflection the other night. The presenter brought a picture of a Raggedy Ann doll to help begin the discussion. What emotion did the picture bring to our minds? 

Her emotions were about collecting Raggedy Ann dolls and about spending summer vacations with relatives in North Carolina. She began describing things she remembered with fondness – like cheese biscuits, ham, cornbread, and various southern foods. It made some of us with similar experiences suddenly feel very hungry. She had another memory of seeing her first fireflies, little black-and-red winged bugs whose abdomens flashed a greenish glow to signal with other fireflies. I thought immediately of the willow tree in my childhood front yard with fireflies (which we called lightnin’ bugs) blinking under the trailing whips and leaves. I needed the joy that memory brought to me that night, and I continue to think of it with pleasure and fondness. 

I needed the pleasure of my own memories. Two days earlier, I had gotten up to find the last of my “boys,” my little girl Phoebe, had crossed the rainbow bridge overnight. She was buried next to the shed with Dominic and Gandhi. I had been greeting Dominic and Gandhi every morning since Gandhi passed before Thanksgiving, so now I’ve added Phoebe to the ritual. Returning to my house devoid of cats yet wit toys, litter boxes, dishes, and the like wasn’t easy. It’s the first time my house has been empty since moving here fifteen years ago. 

I am slowly getting rid of the things I may never use again, but who knows? I might. Making such decisions is hard, and my heart aches for my furry bundles of joy. Now and again, though, I feel little flashes of joy – like my afternoon rainbows. They result from light in my western-facing window shining through many prisms that catch the light and project it in little bits of a rainbow on the opposite wall and ceiling. I do love those; they bring me peace and thoughts of God’s closeness. 

Today, as I was washing dishes, I watched as the breeze blew three blossoms off my bougainvillea. They chased each other across the black asphalt of my driveway. The scene lasted only a minute before flitting onto my neighbor’s lawn. It was like watching three children playing – or three kittens. Maybe they were being batted around by kittens I could not see, tuxedo kittens that lay just a few feet away in the ground. 

These moments of joy help take the pain of my loss away, even if for just a few brief moments. It is not surprising that others pop up. For instance, a dear friend’s mother is having medical issues and is anxious about it. She is involved in a Bible study that seems to occupy her mind most of the time, but still, when someone thinks or mentions the C word, it tends to wipe other things away for a while. I had knitted a white prayer shawl with triangles (the number three again), so I sent it to her via my friend. It seems it was a very welcome gift, precisely the right color, and was very comforting. I got a lot of joy out of knowing that. Having gone through a bout of cancer myself more than a decade ago, I know how much things like that can help. 

God was with me when I found Phoebe’s little body that morning, just as I remember God being present in the lightning bugs, the cancer diagnosis, and even with the dancing bluish-red flowers chasing each other for a brief time. It is easier to see God’s hand in the little joys, but perhaps when I need to feel God’s presence the most, I cannot feel it through the pain I or someone I care about is going through.  

I feel guilty when I forget God’s presence when sad, harmful, or awful things come along. I do have a feeling, though, that God understands I am only human. After all, even God let God’s grief show when Jesus, the beloved son, died on the cross. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have died both before and after that Friday afternoon, but God had never before acted from grief rather than anger. I guess I should consider that God made us in God’s own image, complete with the ability to feel joy, anger, despair, and even grief. 

Meanwhile, I still have the three outside boy cats I feed daily. I love them, but in a slightly different way than I did Phoebe and the indoor boys. It’s my way of caring for a little bit of nature and God’s creation. The purrs I get from at least two of them (the third is too new and skittish to approach yet) are my thanks and another bit of joy. I am glad I have that reminder too.

Image: Fireflies in the Forest Near Nuremburg, (2006). Author Quit007.  Found at Wikimedia Commons. 

Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives near Phoenix, Arizona.

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