Shadows, Light, Hazelnuts and Nutella
May 10, 2013
I saw that [our Lord] is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good, as I understand.
And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand….
– The Fifth Chapter of Revelations of Divine Love, by Dame Julian Norwich
Three years ago this month I miscarried twins after trying for several years to conceive. During that time I spent days curled up with Julian of Norwich on the advice of my spiritual director, and prayed with this passage. She became one of my favorite saints and May 8th is her feast day. In her Revelations of Divine Love, she envisions holding a small, hazelnut-sized object and wondering how such a small, fragile things exists. Commonly it is thought of as creation itself, and it is shown in one of my favorite icons as the earth. (Although the fourteenth century mystic would not have not known what our blue planet looks like from space, I love the idea God might have shown her.)
Oddly, one of the popular pregnancy apps you can download onto a smartphone tells you the size of your growing embryo by comparing it to familiar food items—a poppy seed, a sesame seed, a cashew, a mango. When I read this passage of Julian’s writing, I took comfort in imagining that Jesus held my babies in his hands like that hazelnut and, though they were lost to me, there was nothing separating them from God.
Five months after my miscarriage we conceived twins again, but even in my zany new-normal of raising toddlers, I never quite forget the acuteness of longing to be a mother for years, the powerlessness of infertility, and the despair of a lost pregnancy. They taught me to let go of the fairytale that I was ultimately in control of anything.
That’s the Easter life. Things are different on the other side of death. When God breathes life back into our dry bones, we are transformed, just like the Easter Jesus. I am grateful for every tantrum and poopy diaper in a way I know I would not have been, had my journey to motherhood been easier. (I am still sometimes stressed, but also always grateful.) The love I felt for the babies I lost remains a part of me, and like a seed, it has grown into the love I feel for my children.
Recently, my husband and I were out with two hungry, melting-down kids. He went into a bakery to retrieve caffeine for parents and a sugary treat for the kids—sometimes, we’ll do anything to get them to eat. Inside, the line was too long, and he came out of the café carrying only two plastic spoons, dipped liberally in jars of Nutella from the condiment bar. Surprise, surprise—both the kiddos loved the hazelnutty goodness of Nutella and wound up with it all over their faces, which was annoying and adorable for their sheer sugary joy. The moment turned bittersweet for me when I thought of Julian’s vision.
It’s the same feeling I have when my kids toddle around the back yard and bend down, splaying their small hands on the rocks we set there to remember the embryos we lost. The rocks sit under a fig tree, and mottled sunlight shines down on them—shadow and light, death and then life.
What we experience in the dark valleys of our lives does not vanish on Easter, but the experiences themselves are transformed and suffused with light.
– Peer into your dark places—any patches of light?
– Notice the bittersweet moments in your day.
– Sing He’s got the whole world in His hands.
– Eat a spoonful of Nutella and know that nothing separates you from the love of God.