Tonight when I came home there was a tree frog, curled up the size of a baseball, on my door handle. I have come to this door in the evenings 1000 times, and never before found anything on my door, especially nothing as exquisite as a giant tree frog. My dog George who normally scares away innocent things was too busy peeing on bushes to notice it. I couldn’t enter my apartment without most surely scaring it away. And who can disturb something so extraordinary? I texted two friends the novelty of my frog quandary, but I got my answer when I called a third. My young friend told me to catch it, which can’t be done when my only equipment was a cocker spaniel and an expensive Italian handbag. She said since I couldn’t catch it, I should just name it. . Right when I went closer to see what the frog’s name should be, while on the phone, it hopped to the yellow stucco of my wall, turned yellow and flopped into the bushes.
I failed. I’ve been reading a lot of Dillard lately, and this was one of her kind of nature encounters. She names ephemeral islands, and she can look closely at a moth aflame and see its holiness. Presented with my own holy moment, all I could do was call my friends. When the frog left, I felt like I missed that moment—sullied its holiness. Maybe holy moments have to be solitary. But then, I wouldn’t have remembered to name the frog if I hadn’t called someone.
I opened my door and dragged George in. Turning to drop my bags, I noticed a moth through the window above my front door, by my porch light. This moth was at least 3 inches across with dark gray spots and intricate gray lace on its brown wings. It had a fat body and a fuzzy head. Like the frog, this enormous moth was out of its place. I got a text from one of my friends, “What would Dillard say?” Dillard would say, this moth, too, is holy. This is the moth that, lit and aflame, burns like the seraphim who proclaim God’s holiness. Unlike Dillard’s forest candles, my lamp is enclosed so my moth is in no fiery danger. But if it’s my moth, it too needs a name. With the frog I fell short, but I can name my moth. I wanted the frog back, but I got a moth. I got a moth that connects me to all the Dillard and prayer discourse I’ve been reading—to what passes for my prayers and my intimacy with nature. I name my moth as Dillard names her islands on Puget Sound—the ones that appear and fade in the mist, the ones that she can’t catch but still sees. I name my moth Second Holiness, Mercy; I name my moth To Name and Holy the Firm. .
Prayer is giving things a name. A text from another friend reminds me that assigning names is what identifies the thing as known by us—part of the holy desire to know and be known. The first task assigned Adam by God is name all the creatures of the earth. Naming is holy work, but like Adam, it also wants for a companion.
A name puts “a handle” on the infinite beneath it for holding the infinite above it. Dillard states, “the world is far from God. [It is] from God, and linked to him by Christ, but infinitely other than God,…a vertical line…a great chain of burning… Christ touches only the top, skims off only the top, as it were, the souls of men…” But also “the world is an immanation [sic], where God is in the thing, and eternally present here, if nowhere else,” leaving the world “flattened on a horizontal plane, singular, all here, crammed with heaven, and alone.” We need something to connect the God we find at the base of things—in experience and circumstance—to the Sovereign God of eternity. When we name something, we make it knowable. We have a handle for the will of God that is in us and around us, but also for the will of God that is so great above us we can’t comprehend it. When we pray we socket the base need or conflict, bound by the limits of time, into the sovereign hurling eternity where it belongs.
I socket this moth into place, but I wonder if I would have without first losing the tree frog.