By William Scruggs
I moved with my wife to Winter Hill in the summer of 2019. The neighborhood just outside of Boston was still normal then, at least by 2021 standards, but it didn’t feel like home. Not until I started to notice Marys looking out from most of the neighbors’ gardens.
A few stood in half-buried bathtubs, but most came with whitewashed scalloped shells painted blue inside.
I do not have an particularly strong devotion to Mary. I am a good protestant in this sense. So I’m not sure why these household shrines mean so much. They were more than ornamental though. They they made me believe that this land, which is so far from home, was holy too.
Then I started to notice the empty shells in the other yards in between. They reminded me of that scene in Ezekiel when God leaves the temple on the cherubim and the wheels sparkling like topaz. But these mothers didn’t go in glory. And their departure didn’t mean divine punishment. At least, no prophet has spoken thus.
They were taken in much smaller ways for reasons I can only guess at. Some one-time neighbors, I imagine, took her by choice and went farther away from the city. Others, I suspect, were pressured out by the weight of the market. With them, Mary’s absence leaves trace of the tragic. But ultimately I do not know. Mary, whether she is here or not, has not spoken to me yet.
Forgive me this quick pivot, but I have been meeting with a group of writers and storytellers from church. Since the New Year, we have kept one concern before us—the intersection of racial and climate injustice. We are comfortable pointing to places on a map where the intersection arises. We can list issues that would demand our attention. But engaging this intersection poetically as well as politically has brought us more questions than answers.
At least, it has for me. The integrative attention demanded holds the scars in the landscape alongside ground still running underneath. Between placing myself honestly, honoring difference, and reveling in the common, I am not sure where to land. But I’ve had to walk around our neighborhood a lot and imagine and read and do it over again, each time coming closer to recognizing the place and its holiness.
Concrete statues and absent Marys are a good object of attention for me. They make me wonder about this place beyond myself. These questions turn to structural dynamics of politics and economy. But they do not end there. Poetic attention makes you imagine the people who placed her in the yard and then took her when it was time to go.
And then it makes too you wonder where you are in the scene too. I’ve learned from these other writers that stones set out in the suburbs or tree roots under fences can open up the world. Whether its Styrofoam or any other missing gods, the traces of the holy in the land shine with a world coming into being.
William Scruggs is a CBF Leadership Scholar pursuing an M.Div. at Harvard Divinity School. He currently works as a ministry intern at Old Cambridge Baptist Church.