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  • cmcsullivan

Do you remember Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who? Horton is an elephant who discovers that on a speck of dust there lives a whole world of people called Whos. Horton protects the speck, carrying it about on the flower of a clover, telling all and sundry about this tiny world. But Horton's community doesn't believe that such a thing as a world on a speck can be so, and they persecute Horton and try to destroy the speck, thinking it's nothing but a troublesome fantasy causing Horton to disturb the peace.

There are plenty of ways we might apply the story of Horton and the Whos to our present moment, but here's the one I've been thinking about: In order to prove that the Whos really exist on the tiny speck, Horton urges them to make as much noise as they can; Horton, with his big elephant ears, can hear the Whos, but his neighbors cannot. The people of Whoville spring into action. They yell and sing and trumpet and bang the pots and pans, but, alas, they cannot be heard.

In a final burst of desperation, the mayor of Whoville searches the town to discover if there mightn't be Whos not doing their part. At last he discovers one small Who who is silent. He implores the little Who to join his voice to the chorus', and out of his mouth comes a single word: YOPP! This yopp proves to be enough. The little Who's yopp, carried aloft along with the sounds of pans and pots, of trumpeting and singing and shouting, transcends the speck and allows the Whos to be heard by Horton's tormentors, saving the Whos and Horton himself from a pot of boiling oil. (Dr. Seuss is darker than you remember!)

Here's why this is on my mind: When I most need to pray, I often find myself silent. I wake every day to headlines of contagion and financial ruin, and I know I should pray, and I can't. I open the scriptures and read the words, but my own words fail me. There's too much to ask for. I'm overwhelmed by the scope and the depth. I feel helpless, like a tiny Who on a tiny speck on a flowering clover in the trunk of an elephant.


In the late 1300's in England, there lived a woman who we only know as Julian of Norwich. Julian suffered a terrible illness, of which she was expected to die. In what seemed would be her final hours, Julian experienced a series of visions. She recovered from her illness and wrote of what she saw in a manuscript now circulated under the title, Shewings or Revelations of Divine Love.

One of my favorite passages from this text goes like this:

"Our Lord showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, on the palm of my hand, round like a ball. I looked at it thoughtfully and wondered, 'What is this?' And the answer came, 'It is all that is made.' I marveled that it continued to exist and did not suddenly disintegrate; it was so small. And again my mind supplied the answer, 'It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it.' In short, everything owes its existence to the love of God. In this 'little thing' I saw three truths. The first is that God made it; the second is that God love it; and the third is that God sustains it..."

Thus, I take this to be the truth: I am a tiny Someone on a tiny speck on a ball the size of a hazelnut. Suddenly I know how to pray. In my weakness and my uncertainty, there is only one thing required of me -- and this I can do. I raise my voice with the chorus and utter the only word I can think to say. I breathe in and shout a tiny, mighty


And I trust that it's enough.

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  • cmcsullivan

Such strange times we are living in. A couple of friends, women a decade or two older than I, have, in the past few years, faced unexpected and unwanted changes in their personal relationships. Their experiences have caused me to think a great deal about life events that befall us without our consent. I've thought, "So often I fail to act of my own volition while I still can."

Now here we all are, the whole wide world, living with the consequences of circumstances which are beyond our control. Here we sit, looking out at the world (which today, where I am, is blowing with new snow after a spring-like 65 degree day yesterday. The last day of winter and the first day of spring have reversed themselves. How quickly things can change!). The world we live in seems transformed, but really, it was never what we'd imagined it to be. We're more vulnerable, more connected, less in control than we thought.

I keep thinking about the meaning of apocalypse, a revealing. We are in a time of apocalypse, that which was hidden being unveiled before our eyes. How do we feel about what we see? How will we respond?

Our responses will remake us. In our personal apocalypses, our personal lives are remade. Coronavirus is remaking the world, and us too. What we have been was, perhaps, as true as we had eyes to see. It will take courage to take a fresh look at ourselves and our relationships, our work and play, our communities and our world. What is the truth? What did we prefer to see before the naked underside of things was laid bare?

We'd prefer to go back. It's only been days. We can remember clearly what was normal -- school and work, grocery shopping and socializing. All that we took for granted, because we could, until we couldn't. We could not imagine this and it came so quickly. As the days and weeks and, God forbid, but likely, months go by, we may no longer be able to imagine things as they were.

Who will we become in the meanwhile? The fissures between us will continue to appear as one locks herself in the house, another hoards toilet paper, yet another refuses the six-foot separation of bodies now mandated for the common good. Can we draw together as we stay apart? Will we accept that the brokenness between and among us on the outside is a manifestation of the broken places on the inside?

The opportunities dormant in this moment are endless. We can slow down and become quiet. Yes, we can stream movies, but we can also watch the narrative playing in our own hearts and minds. We can be sad and hopeful, fearful and helpful, lost and grateful all at the same time. We can watch the unfolding drama around us and within us and learn who we have been, who we are, who we are becoming.

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  • cmcsullivan

Fasting. Weeping. Mourning. Almsgiving. Sin. Repentance. Prayer. These are the themes of Lent. They sound dark and sad. They make us want to look away.

We shy from the lenten seasons of our lives. I want not to fast, but to feast, not weep and mourn, but rejoice. I want to hang on tightly to what is mine rather than to give it away. I find it easier to ignore my sin than to repent. I am tempted to keep busy with everything else rather than to pray.

Where does this get us? We lead lives that, by and large, go unexamined. We get up in the morning, work the day through, and sleep again. We have good moments, no doubt. We laugh, we love, we play. All too often, though, we don't. Instead we argue, we struggle, we worry. We feel overwhelmed by our tasks, lost in our responsibilities. We lay our heads down to rest but find we can't.

We react by checking out. We watch T.V. or surf the web. We call a friend to gossip. We drink. We eat too much. We shop. We make excuses for it all. Life is too hard. We need a break.

But none of our reacting heals the wound. Our lives continue to feel incomplete, sometimes even in the good times.

The truth is, Lent does not offer up something new; rather, it holds a mirror up to my life as it is. The remedy is not to turn away, but courageously to look at our own reflections.

Below are a series of questions for reflection and journalling or talking over with a friend or a spiritual director. How have you encountered your personal lenten seasons?

Find a quiet place to be. Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. Notice how it feels to be in your body, in this place, at this time.

Even if you're not sure there's anyone listening, invite God to be present with you.

Reflect on these questions:

When you consider the themes of Lent -- fasting, mourning, almsgiving, sin, repentance, prayer -- does any attract you? Repel you?

When have you experienced a season of lent in your life, a time when you were called on to fast or mourn or give away what you would rather have kept? How did you respond?

What are the struggles in your life today? What are the joys?

How do you check out of your own life? When or under what circumstances? How do you feel when you reflect back on those times?

If you hold a mirror up to your life, what do you see looking back at you? How do you feel about it?

When you have answered these questions in your thoughts or in writing, pause and again become present to yourself and to God. What do you notice?

We often need support to explore these questions about our lives. Spiritual direction can help. Click to contact us.

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