By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published January 24, 2008
The squirrel has shown up again. He visits twice a day, resting on a limb outside my study window. There he sits, paws clasped as if in prayer, just looking at me.
I always wonder what he is trying to tell me.
From my study, I look out upon a thicket of swaying trees. There is a big shaggy nest in one of them, which may be this fellow’s home.
My husband and I live on only one-quarter acre, but our backyard has never been cleared, so it is like living in a forest. Even if it is wild and disheveled, we cherish this patch of land.
It helps us pretend we don’t really live in a city.
Over the years, we have dreamed of leaving Decatur to find a perfect place for us: less populated and more natural. We have fantasized about lakes and rivers, always picturing a generous swath of land.
Living apart from others is tempting. We would be free of the mind-shattering din of leaf blowers and home renovation projects. And don’t forget traffic snarls.
Still, whenever that fantasy starts gaining steam, something stops us from springing into action. Isolation sounds tempting, but perhaps it is not such a good plan spiritually.
I believe we work out our salvation in the company of others.
How can one learn to forgive a neighbor for being noisy if the nearest one is miles away? And what about loving that neighbor as oneself?
Yes, if we lived in “nowheresville,” my beloved husband would count as a neighbor of sorts, but he is easy to love. Didn’t Christ tell us the real test comes from loving those who are difficult?
Christ was rarely alone. He was either with the apostles on the boat or journeying with them through various towns.
When he walked through the crowds, people tugged at him, cried out and tagged along behind him. At times, he had to escape the throngs. Then he went to the mountain to pray or departed for the stark solitude of the desert.
Still, as we know from Scripture, even in the desert he wasn’t alone: The devil showed up to tempt him.
And there is a lesson there, surely. Even those who create what seems like a perfect paradise, say a lake home with all the trimmings, may be in for a surprise.
They may discover they are not as alone as they thought.
Satan can show up in any island condo, mountain home or lakeside inn. Temptations don’t disappear just because we have carved out a solitary life somewhere.
We meet Christ in people who are very different from us. There is always the co-worker whose opinions irk us. And the neighbor who seems to have a leaf blower attached to his body at all times.
Even if people are vexing, we are called to seek the spark of divinity in them. And to realize a resounding truth of our faith.
They are God’s children and he loves them deeply.
Gazing into other people’s eyes, we see our reflections. We may like to think we are generous, but maybe our employees would beg to differ.
We may cherish ourselves as somewhat angelic beings, but maybe our in-laws have other descriptions.
Even those who live in monasteries are not truly alone. They must put up with the everyday annoyances, joys and sorrows of living in a community.
Monks take a vow of stability. They will dwell in the same monastery all their lives, and when God calls them home, be buried on the grounds there.
Maybe squirrels are a bit like that too. They choose one tree in which to build a nest and there they stay, unless the tree is felled by humans or knocked down in a storm.
In their stable surroundings, they do what squirrels everywhere do— collect nuts, repair nests, raise babies and enjoy the company of other squirrels.
It is not a perfect life, but a pretty good one. And perhaps that is the squirrel’s message for me. God can be found in the simple things, wherever we live. And in the company of the people who surround us.
Lorraine V. Murray will have a new book published by Ignatius Press this spring. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artwork featured in the print edition is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com).