Bidden or Unbidden, God Is Present

The Prayers of Whatever and I Don’t Know

In a very unusual position for me, I found myself at the foot of the Virgin Mary yesterday, looking up with gratitude.

My visit to the surrounding gardens at Mercy by the Sea (Madison, CT) offered welcome respite from the hectic week and this damned busy brain of mine. More so, it provided a brief and overdue moment to gather thoughts after a recent period of turmoil and change.

As I got out of my car, a pileated woodpecker giggled from a tree nearby, as if to say: lighten up. Gatherings of spring robins flittered easily about in the grass. The blue sky streaked with mares’ tails whispered a promise of rain — or not. A labyrinth wove mysteriously through inkberry bushes, while nearby wind chimes sang in the cool shore breeze.

Waves conversed with the sandy beach below, a small secluded expanse of sand and shells and times-weathered stones.

This divine space rolled out alongside the beach, its grassy lawn interrupted only by random steps, small stands of trees, and solitary benches placed here and there for a view. One such bench, facing southwest towards a stone cairn and seawall, was inscribed with a small memorial plaque, “Bidden or Unbidden, God Is Present.”

Pushing aside my immediate resistance, I found I kind of liked the sentiment. In Latin, Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit, now inscribed on the tomb of Carl Jung who wrote: “It is a Delphic oracle….It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose?”

To what purpose indeed had I been called to this glorious space, and then there to the foot of the Virgin Mary?

Truth be told, I don’t call her that. I just call her Mary, and I appreciate her existence in the same way I do Quan Yin and Ganesh, and sometimes maybe capital-G god.

But Mary called to me yesterday from her alcove beneath the cedars in a halo of afternoon sun, and I found myself thinking about her outstretched hands.

Were they inviting me in, come here across the lawn? or come back to some old and out-grown belief? Was she praying, perpetually for all…or just for me that afternoon?

The position of her hands downward, palms open and facing forward is known as the “Position of the Distribution of Graces,” but they reminded me of my granddaughter Lia’s sweet “I don’t know” gesture and my own occasional I-Give-Up-Whatever shrug.

And then, in that moment — and still — I found myself wondering if maybe Mary’s gesture was actually one of resignation or acceptance — like Lia and me — just yielding to What Is.

What if the secret to peace and Nirvana — and God even — is in that surrender, in the “I Don’t Know” and “Come What May”?

And there it was, unbidden as promised: God.

Essay and Photo ©2019, Jen Payne. About VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT, source About Virgin Mary statue meaning, Letter from Carol Jung, source: Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters: 1951-1961, ed. G. Adler, A. Jaffe, and R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, vol. 2.

Sunday’s Direction


It was a quiet day in the woods. Overcast and cool, fifties with a dampness that hung in the air — leftover from the week’s rains. There were no birds courting, no snakes or turtles crossing my path. Just me.

Just me and an assortment of recent conversations — with my friend Rhonda about right action and resistance, with my friend Judith about the incarnations of God, with myself about intentions and authenticity.

I took a deep breath, inhaled the smells of the pine tree and honeysuckle and whispered into the breeze — “I am asking for help, show me some direction…I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I’m going.”

Then I set out on my walk and almost immediately received my reply: Love.


• • •

©2013, Jen Payne

On Turtles, God and the Intention of All This


It has certainly been an exciting time in the woods lately! Such a great abundance of animals to happen upon — birds, snakes, turtles, frogs! And as I stop to take pictures and consider new writings, I find myself thinking about god.

How much closer can I get to the intention of god than to be walking in the woods and interacting – however so slightly – with these magnificent creatures? It’s like Emily Dickinson observed, “Some keep the Sabbath going to church, I keep it staying at home, with a bobolink for a chorister, and an orchard for a dome.”

Yesterday, I happened upon a Red-eared Slider Turtle that had been hit by a car near the preserve where I walk. Its shell was broken and there was blood. Blood! I felt at once the fear and pain of this small creature and knew it was my responsibility to do something. I would no more leave an injured human on the side of the road.

Why is it, do you think, that we can drive by an animal who has been hit by a car and feel no remorse, but highways are shutdown when humans suffer similar fate?

Why is human murder a crime destined as front-page news, but animal murder is considered sport?

How can we preach, in our churches, on our Sabbaths, about kindness and love and right action, when we leave those hallowed spaces and commit atrocities to our planet and its creatures?

These are the things I wondered about as I placed the injured turtle into a cardboard box and drove it across town to the local vet.

These are the things I wondered about while I stopped traffic to let a black rat snake cross the road just moments later.

These are the things I wondered about as I walked in the woods yesterday, hearing god in the sound of the rain and the song of the birds.


Anyone would be hard pressed to put forth that animals are not perfect creations of God; they are just different types of creations. Humankind has always compared other creations with themselves, thinking always that we are the highest of God’s creations. For this reason many humans don’t think that other living organisms have souls, but how do we supposedly know that? Do we presume to know God so well that we can say that souls don’t exist in other living forms? Just because God supposedly gave us dominion over all living things (according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible), does that mean we can kill and mistreat them? Could not the word “dominion” also mean a responsibility to care for and ensure the survival of all living things?

— Sylvia Browne, All Pets Go to Heaven


TURTLE UPDATE: the folks at the Branford Veterinary Hospital told me that they sutured up some bone fragments on the turtle yesterday and he seems to be doing fine today. They won’t be able to repair his shell until probably next week – they actually glue them back together – and they expect he’ll be a long term patient.

All of this, by the way, is a free service offered by Connecticut vets for rescued wildlife, although donations are always appreciated. I don’t know if other states do the same thing, but it’s great to know that there are resources when we find animals in crisis!

Turns out the Red-eared Slider Turtle is not native to Connecticut. It’s a southern species probably released as a pet into the wild. The vet said he seemed to have figured out how to live through the winters, since he was a rather large and well-developed fellow. Probably 15″ – 18″ long as I recall.

• • •

Essay ©2013, Jen Payne. Photo courtesy of Wikia Travel.

That’s Not What God Means

This summer, a Baptist church in Mississippi refused to marry a couple because they were black. In Vermont, a 7-year old girl was kidnapped and protected by Evangelical groups for three years because she was living with her lesbian mother. Thousands of people, in the name of their god, ate at a popular chain restaurant on Wednesday, to proudly and joyfully protest same-sex marriage.

There is so much hate in all of that it makes my stomach hurt.

That’s not what god means, folks.

God is about living in love, not judgment. It’s about peace and kindness and goodwill, not hostility and hatred and bigotry. It’s about being open-hearted, not narrow-minded.

God isn’t about politics or ideological segregation…it’s about being connected. We are all connected because we are all the same.

Until we realize that, we’re no better than religious persecutors, slave owners, genocide perpetrators, ethnic cleansers…the Nazis.

And we should be ashamed of ourselves.

• • •

Image: Dove of Peace, Picasso.