I experience great joy in listening to the spirituality of the child, in experiencing with them the discovery of life and of God. This summer some children and youth at my parish are growing a small garden, and we are supplementing our planting, watering and weeding with Episcopal Relief & Development’s Abundant Life Garden Project curriculum. This past Sunday we began thinking about water. While some young people watered our garden plots, others drew images of water in their lives: the ocean, a river, water faucets, colorful splash pads, a cold glass of water complete with a straw, even snow-capped mountains from a recent vacation. We concluded our time with a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of water.

In the midst of this prayer my thoughts turned to my home state. I wondered what kids in Clendenin or Alderson or Richwood might draw today if I asked them about their experience of water. I wondered how we might possibly muster up a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s gift of water: a destructive water that has taken family members, homes, schools, libraries, playgrounds, businesses – along with a sense of routine and security.

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” says our mothering God in last Sunday’s reading from Isaiah.

Image upon image of the destructive waters from the June 23 flood bombard social media even still – images ugly and violent: a burning house floating on the waters; piles of tattered, muddy belongings; roads caved in and cars overturned; water inundating homes and schools.

…A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead…

Numerous people from near and far have been moved to pity for those affected by the violent flooding. By their compassionate acts they bring beauty to the ugliness. In her description of beauty and justice, M. Shawn Copeland writes: “Beauty is consonant with human performance, with habit or virtue, with authentic ethical performance or action. Beauty is the living up to and living out the love and summons of creation in all our particularity and specificity as God’s human creatures, made in God’s own image and likeness.”[1] Just and generous acts powerfully performed throughout one’s life tell of beauty in this world. 

…But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend…’

In the wake of this most recent West Virginia flood, beauty eclipses the ugliness of violence as people concretely show their wholehearted love for God and for their neighbors. God’s own image is made manifest:

-In the witness of folks who literally risked life and limb to save their neighbor while they clung to a tree in the flood waters…

-In the actions of strangers who continue to show up at people’s homes ready to work, or who are providing housing to the thousands left homeless…

-In financial contributions to help families and communities begin to rebuild…

In all of these stories and more, beautiful, holy actions prevail.

And yet…

If Copeland’s description of beauty stands, there’s a lot of ugliness in West Virginia and beyond, too. Violent, unethical practices have scarred the land and disempowered the people. The Catholic Committee of Appalachia’s recent pastoral The Telling Takes Us Home provides a broader and more in-depth treatment of systemic issues in the region than I could offer in this brief blog post. For our purposes, grave issues threaten beauty in the state and lead to terrible floods such as the present one. Unethical human performance is ugly and manifests itself in many ways, including unjust wages, unsafe drinking water, unreclaimed mining sites, mountaintop removal, and so forth. There is an unwillingness among some – especially some in political and ecclesial authority – to see the root causes of the devastation and to work towards a more authentic human economy and ecology.

…Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side…

In today’s global society, with mounting evidence that human activity affects global climate change, “Who is my neighbor” includes those in our immediate proximity and extends to those whom we will never meet due to distance and time. The love of our mothering God – who comforts us in our times of great need – includes the love of neighbors in all times and places for generations to come, and “neighbor” extends to all that is created. Perhaps this flood can be a conduit for greater beauty to emerge – a beauty that has the power to engage us, to draw us into ugliness and to sustain us as we attempt to see clearly and to live justly and virtuously in communion with one another, the created world and our God.

This coming Sunday I again will garden with the children and youth at my parish. We will continue thinking about water in our lives, in the scriptures and in the Book of Common Prayer. No doubt I will remember the children and families of West Virginia, and in my remembering, bring them into our present moment and allow their stories to continue to transform me and draw me towards a more beautiful living.


[1] M. Shawn Copeland, “The Critical Aesthetics of Race,” in She Who Imagines: Feminist Theological Aesthetics, ed. by Laurie Cassidy and Maureen H. O’Connell (Collegeville: Lit. Press, 2012), 83.


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