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One day, I woke late and barely had time to shower and dress before dashing out the door. As I stood on the porch, oblivious to the sunrise or the wind sighing through the trees, I felt the presence of Gaia. She appeared to me ample and smiling, her great hips swaying in a rhythm I used to know but could no longer quite hear. I recognized for the first time in months the joy and beauty held in all the Lady's creations.

She stood in front of me, bosom quaking in indignation, and demanded, "Daughter, do you love me?"

I answered hastily, "Of course, Mother! You are that which provides me sustenance and gives me life."

Then she asked, "And if I had made you imperfectly, unsound of leg or limb or organ, would you still love me?"

Perplexed, I glanced down at my perfectly sound arms and legs and at the rest of my body which in spite of my best efforts remained nearly as ample as Her own. I thought of all the things I wouldn't be able to do without those limbs and considered them against the perceived cruelty of being given a body more plentiful than modern society allowed. I realized I had taken for granted the things that I could do with this otherwise healthy and perfect body.

And I answered, "You did make my body imperfectly and I have suffered among the once-borns for it. Yet it is not as unsound or imperfect as others I have seen. I am grateful for what I have been given, Mother, and I still love you."

Then Gaia said, "If you were blind, would you still love my creations?"

How could I love something without being able to see it? Then I thought of all the blind people in the world and of one friend in particular whose observations of Gaia's works went far deeper than my own. I remembered a time when blindness was considered a gift from the gods and a mark of their favor. How did all these people see creation without actually seeing it? As I considered this, the veil fell away from my own inner sight and I recognized that one did not need to see in order to view creation.

So I answered, "Gaia, when the physical vision is taken away, the inner vision remains. It is this inner vision through which so many of your other children experience your Creation. I can do that too; I feel the energies around me. I could still love your creations, Mother, even if I could not see them. It is the inner appearance that counts, not the outer."

Gaia smiled and looked as though she though she was finally accomplishing something with this errant and wayward child of hers. "And if you were deaf? Could you still hear me?"

Oh, She was being so difficult today! I would be late for work if she continued much longer. Yet unwillingly, like a flower seed dropped in a crack in the pavement, her question found a place to root in the mind I had though infertile. How could I hear the wind's songs or the bird's calls if I were deaf? Then I understood. Gaia and her creations were not a mere matter of listening with the ears; one also had to listen with the heart.

I answered, "I depend too much upon my ears and not often enough on my heart. It would be difficult, but if I were deaf I would have to let my heart guide me. I think I would still hear you, Mother."

She smiled in satisfaction and asked yet another question: "And if you were mute? How would you praise creation and communicate with Me?"

What, not sing in circle with my fellow pagans? No invocation to the Lord and Lady? No call to the elements? How could I communicate if I'd no tongue to do it with? Then it occurred to me: songs can be sung from the heart and soul without sound; it is this language that Gaia understands best. And praising Her is not always done with song but with actions.

I responded humbly, "I would want my actions to speak in ways that my tongue could not. I could still communicate with you."

And Gaia demanded one final time, "Do you really love me?"

With the conviction that I had missed the purpose of this lesson, I responded with what assurance I could, "Yes, Mother! I love You because You have given me these gifts and shown me their value."

Gaia shifted her ample hips laden with creation, gestured to the full breasts with blunt hands calloused from efforts to plant and sow. "Then why are you ashamed of me? Why do you not use the gifts I have given you? Why do you not live every day enjoying the multitude of creation I have put into your care?"

Tearfully, I replied, "Others do not see the value of the gifts you have given me. They look only at the body and say I am a fright or a disgrace."

"And this body is so bad? It is strong and free of defects and it could do great things if only its owner willed it so. I made you in my own image, child. If you do not love yourself, how can you possibly say you love me?"

I did not answer this time, having no answer to give that would serve.

"You are blessed with life. I did not make you to throw this gift away. I have blessed you with talents that you may tend Me but you continue to turn away. I have revealed my word to you, but your ears were closed. I have shown my blessings to you but your eyes were blind. I have granted you my creatures to take care of but you have ignored them. Yet I have heard your voice and I have answered your questions. Do you truly love me, child?"

I could not answer. How could I? I was mortified beyond belief. Gaia had shown me nothing but bounty and love and I had allowed the opinions of a few once-borns to soil it with their ignorance. I had no excuse. What could I say to Her, the gracious Lady who had given me her own form with which to utilize those talents?
I cried out, "Why have You continued to listen for me? Why do You love me so when I could not return that love upon myself or You?"

Gaia wrapped her arms around me and answered:
"Because you are My creation, you are My child,
I could never abandon you.
When you cry, I will have compassion and cry with you.
When you shout with joy, I will laugh with you.
When you are down, I will encourage you.
When you fall, I will cushion the blow.
When you are tired, i will cradle you in my arms as you sleep. You are a child of
Gaia and as such you will love and be loved."

She disappeared, leaving me with a mind full of new thoughts and a heart open to the ways of the world once more. I munched thoughtfully on an apple and noticed how beautiful the sunrise was.

(copyright 1997 by Allegra Brillante)

Book of Shadows © 2002, Dana (Huntress of the Dark)