Essay

Berries and God’s presence

by Christie Purifoy

strawberry picking

“Look! There is a God!”

My friend tells me these are the words she shouts whenever something moves her: an especially lovely farmstead glimpsed through the car window or the canopy of a magnificent old tree. Her children roll their eyes and tell her it’s just a barn! or it’s just a tree! but she and I both think they’ll understand some day.

My friend isn’t trying to prove the existence of God. For herself or her kids. Not really.

It isn’t evidence she finds in these rather random, curious sights. It’s something so much better: it is his presence.

//

I stood in a field, pulling pinky-red raspberries into cardboard baskets. My daughter and son wandered further down the line of bushes, and I knew it was because they didn’t want me to criticize their ratio of berries picked to berries consumed.

I didn’t mind about the eating. I didn’t even mind that my son’s shirt was now stained a permanent, pinky-red. Instead, enjoying the same sweet and sour raspberry taste, I wanted to shout at them: “Look! There is a God!”

I have never felt the urge to yell these words in the produce section of my local grocery store.

To live near a well-stocked grocery store is a gift for which I am grateful. I have nothing against grocery stores (although I do have something against individual, shrink-wrapped potatoes). And yet, pyramids of pre-washed berries in plastic, clamshell packages feel as far from that raspberry patch as anything can be.

Though, if my friend sees God in an old red barn, I suppose he might lurk in some unexpected places. Someone, somewhere might even find him at the grocery store.

//

It is always the same after a morning in the berry patch. I am hot, sweaty, and sore. My child “helpers” have wandered off and left me unloading flats of berries from the car.

The little child we left at home is now ready to contribute. This means I better do something fast, or our hard work will quickly disappear down a four-year-old’s throat. And the front of his shirt.

I make jam. I make crisps. I toss berries in green salads.

But, mostly, I wash, I dry, I freeze. Repeat. Berries roll around on cookie sheets in the freezer until a white bloom of ice tells me they’re ready to be bagged.

As I work, I imagine this: taking a child by the hand one cold winter morning. We are not in search of a transcendent experience, exactly, but visions of pancakes do dance in our heads. I see the two of us picking our way down the wooden steps to the dirt floor of our basement. I lift the lid of the old chest freezer to reveal bag after bag of frosty but still-brilliant summer berries.

“Look!” I say. “There is a God.”

* image used with permission by Kelli Campbell

Christie Purifoy is a wife and mother of four who lives in southeastern PA. A PhD in English lit., she recently traded the university classroom for an old farmhouse and a writing desk. She blogs atwww.christiepurifoy.com.

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