WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Startled into Noticing

By Elea Kemler

In a suburban neighborhood, a girl lies stomach down on a lawn, holding a camera up to her face.

"..if we could perhaps do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us…."
—Pablo Neruda, "A callarse" ("Keeping Quiet," translated by Stephen Mitchell)

One of the regular columns in our small town, weekly newspaper is the Animal Activity Blotter from the Animal Control Officer. It’s my favorite thing in the paper. Here is a recent entry:

March saw a relatively small number of Animal Control calls, as follows:
Loose dogs: 5
Squirrel in house: 1
Skunk in trap: 1 (able to talk trapper through an uneventful release)
Dog menacing walker: 1
Raccoon advice: 1
Possum advice: 1
Report of mangy fox: 1

The Animal Activity Blotter asks me to think about things I’ve never really considered, like what an eventful skunk release versus an uneventful one would look like, and probably smell like. But what I love is that it reminds me how deeply the people around me care. Someone is paying close enough attention to a fox to notice its mange. Someone is concerned enough about the well-being of a possum to pick up the phone for advice.

Last fall, there was a bear in the church parking lot. I was about to get out of the car, distracted by a million things, and there it was, big and shaggy brown and beautiful. I didn’t think to call the Animal Control Officer. I just watched in amazement as the bear lumbered away. So much hovers at the edge of my attention. I am always trying to fit in one more email. It took a bear at my door to startle me into noticing.

In these pandemic days, I am trying to attend to the world differently. Maybe it's easier because right now there is so much less to look at and listen to. Spring is slow to arrive here, so I am watching the purple crocuses finally push their way through the muddy ground. I have learned the different barks of the neighbor dogs and I notice how the early magnolia blossoms have come and gone quickly while the bright yellow forsythia lasts.

There is suffering everywhere in the world right now, including in my own small community, where we are grieving the death of elderly parents and bringing soup to those who are sick, as are people everywhere. But I dare to hope. I hope that this Great Silence, which has come alongside the suffering, holds the beginnings of our healing. I hope that the slowness required of us now might teach us to understand ourselves, and help us to see the tender, sturdy threads which connect all living things.

The Animal Control Officer ended his column with the wish that we all stay safe during these difficult days, the humans as well as our wild neighbors. I pray that we will.

Great Silence which holds us all, help us to rest in you now. In the quiet, may our healing begin.

About the Author

Elea Kemler

Rev. Elea Kemler (she/her/hers) has been the minister of First Parish Church of Groton, MA for twenty years and counting. She lives with her husband and two 17-year-olds and mostly loves being a small-town minister where she gets to bless just about everything, from chickens to the new postmaster.


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