That was what she had that IT did not have.
But how could she use it? What was she meant to do?
If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.
But she could love Charles Wallace.
She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace.”
- Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time.
Several years ago, one of my closest friends moved to Germany. I thought I would miss her terribly but I never thought I would need to worry about her safety. Now I worry.
Eleanor* and her family live close to the Belgian border. With the influx of refugees into Europe, she has been teaching German as a Second Language classes to incoming refugees, serving and loving those who are fleeing from terror in their homelands. At the same time, threats are starting to hit closer and closer to home. Eleanor had been in Paris the week before the November 2015 attacks, staying just a few buildings away from one of the restaurants where people were gunned down. On New Year’s Eve, hundreds of women reported that they had been robbed and sexually assaulted near the main train station in Cologne. Before she got married, Eleanor lived in Cologne, within walking distance of that train station. During Holy Week, suicide bombers claiming allegiance to ISIS killed more than thirty people at the Brussels airport -- just a few hours before Eleanor’s mother had been scheduled to land there. Some suspects from this attack were arrested just a few miles away from the city where Eleanor and her family live now.
All of this is hitting much too close to home. Terrible things are terrible no matter where in the world they happen but I didn’t anticipate people I love to be quite so affected.
On a personal level, Eleanor and her husband were joyfully expecting the birth of their first child, due in February. When I was travelling in Italy this past October on the Pauline Pilgrimage, I was knitting a baby blanket as my travel project. Before we went to St. Peter’s Square for a general audience with Pope Francis, Sister Margaret Joseph said that we could bring things with us as there would be a general blessing of them. “Religious items,” she clarified. “Not like your scarf or something.” I am a snarky sort and suggested that “maybe you should bring your scarf. See if it takes!” Then I had a better idea and brought along the baby blanket in progress. We all decided that it “took.” I told Eleanor about this and she was delighted.
A few weeks later, baby Marie was born thirteen weeks early, weighing less than two pounds and with a serious blood infection which had sparked the early labor. Her tiny body couldn’t handle the big blanket I had made, but another friend of mine whose son had been born premature suggested that if I could do something small and quick out of inexpensive yarn that could be a very good thing. As this was over Thanksgiving weekend, I could do it. The pope was busy, but I brought it with me to my Episcopal church on Sunday and asked my pastor to bless it before I mailed them both off. Several weeks later, the baby was growing healthy and strong and ready to come home. I also knit a couple little baby sweaters for her. When I went to the reformed Evangelical church Eleanor had attended in Boston, I brought those with me and asked the senior pastor to pray over them before I mailed them off. This is not a common practice for him, but of course he was happy to do so.
I don’t know what I think these blessings do, exactly, but I do know this baby could use all the love and prayers she could get. It seems a wonderful thing to surround her with love and prayers in a tangible form. At this point Marie is doing very, very well, healthy and strong. And it seems so right that she has been surrounded by tangible love and blessings from people across the Christian traditions ranging from reformed evangelicals to the Pope! Everyone comes together to love baby Marie, and it is all the same God.
While Marie is growing healthier and stronger every day, the world we live in seems to be as frightening as I can ever remember seeing. Every day seems to bring another attack. I feel as if I absolutely have to be doing something, but there is nothing that I can do.
But I can love. In Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry’s little brother Charles Wallace has fallen under the evil control of IT. Meg returns to rescue him but has no idea how she can do this until she realizes she can just love him. In the face of love, IT’s power melts away and Charles Wallace is freed and returns home to his family. I don’t know how to defeat ISIS, but I can love my friend, and her husband, and their baby. I live across an ocean, but I can make things to make that love tangible.
And we all rest in Someone whose love is far more powerful than mine. After Marie came home from the hospital, her family gathered joyfully to celebrate her baptism. We live in a world with terrifying premature births and terrorist attacks, but we also live in the hands of the One who has overcome the world. Eleanor and her husband chose these verses as the theme for Marie’s baptismal celebration:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)
*Names have been changed at the request of the family.
Kristen Filipic has been involved with the Pauline family since 2010 and completed the Cooperator Formation program in 2014. She is a native Midwesterner but has lived in Boston for the last twelve years, where she works as a civil rights attorney. She serves as a lector and a Bible study leader in her home church.