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Erin McCole Cupp ponders how the observation and naming of God's gifts in the world around her is instrumental to healing. 

Another hummingbird zips over to our feeder, chugs our homemade nectar, and zips away. There's one mourning dove, now two, poking around at the seeds that have fallen from the seed feeders above. As the midsummer sun eases over the treetops and into our backyard, I see the shadows sharpen behind the bloom-filled planters resting on our deck. The leaves of our snowball viburnum tremble with the activity of the sparrows who shelter in its branches as they wait and see if it’s safe to come out to our feeders ... or will that hummingbird get territorial again and zoom at them threateningly?

Shadows. Branches. Doves. I name what I see. In this naming practice, surprisingly, I prepare myself for whatever self-denial God has in store for me in the day ahead.

It came about accidentally, this discovery that spending time observing nature made my voluntary penances attainable. I spent the first three months of 2021 all but bedridden, recovering from two successive abdominal surgeries. There wasn’t much I could do but look out a window. I was also in the ongoing process of recovering from decades of binge eating disorder (BED). I’d spent my life exchanging my feelings for food only to discover that both still found their ways to cling to me.

Every confession had me confessing the sin of gluttony. Every Lent had me failing the fasting laws. I longed to be able to give God the gift of my self-denial, but I never could seem to manage it. So I found it incredibly strange that during Lent of 2021, when I was in the most physical and emotional pain I’d experienced in years, I was able for the first time to consistently stick with both the Church’s Lenten fasting requirements and my own personal penances.

As these gifts of power, love, and self-control came creeping into my life, I watched out my window. Shadows. Branches. Doves.




I should not have been surprised. When we look at Genesis 2, we see that before God let Adam be in relationship with another human, he gave Adam the task of naming the animals. The first job a human received was simply to receive and name. God is no fool. He knew that, until we can observe and name the gifts He gives, we cannot hope to connect with the complexity that is human relationship. He wisely gave our first father that experience of receiving, accepting, and naming well before He even gave Adam his Eve.

In fact, it looks like failing to name may have been what steered our first parents out of paradise. When the serpent came along, Adam chose to escape the uncomfortable temptation facing him and Eve when all they had to do was what Adam had already practiced: give the truth names. This silence led them down the path that leads only to death. It is a path we ourselves still choose.




After I recovered from my surgeries, I decided to maintain a daily practice of staring out a window for ten minutes each day, simply naming the things I see. I practice this naming early in the morning, when I am at peace, well before I start my daily swim through all that we humans complicate in our, well, humanness. Now when the day progresses, that day’s pain comes and the serpent comes along with it, pointing out all the comfort I don’t have, I no longer experience that desperate clamor to change that feeling. Now I am free to observe that temptation just as I would a hummingbird, a branch, a blade of grass. I can just accept it without grasping for it, because I’ve practiced letting go of things that are mine to name but not to have.


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As the gifts of power, love, and self-control came creeping into my life, I watched out my window. #catholicmom


This year, it was the second weekend of January—around one year since my first surgery of 2021—when I noticed that the first knobs of bud-promise had popped out on the branches of our pin oak. It happened literally overnight. I had no idea God worked so quickly to bring about spring, even while still in the depth of winter. Now, in observing this gift, I can look for it and name it in any season when it comes about in my own life as well.



Copyright 2022 Erin McCole Cupp
Images: Canva