Starting Point
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Issue Date:  June 3, 2005

Starting Point


Not far from where I grew up is a 32-square-mile swamp called the Meadowlands. Part of it was carved out to make way for the sports and entertainment complex where Giants Stadium now stands. Thousands pass by it every morning and evening on their way to and from Manhattan, just five miles away.

The Meadowlands is believed by many to be one of the most disgusting areas in the country. A 1978 federal report described the Meadowlands as “a swampy mosquito-infested jungle ... where rusting auto bodies, demolition rubble, industrial oil slicks and cattails merge in unholy, stinking union.”

Robert Sullivan loves the place, muck and all. He spent a good many years in that place with a canoe, binoculars, notepad and a keen eye. I wonder how many saw him from their cars and wondered what he was doing down there up to his knees in gunk.

After years, Sullivan wrote a book, The Meadowlands, in which he reveals the remarkable diversity of wildlife and the fascinating history of the place that elevates the junked cars, industrial castoffs and infested waters to the status of the revelatory. He found life there to treasure, and he studied, researched and celebrated it. His writings transform a dirty, smelly swamp into a Wonderland. Where others saw trash, he saw good. He saw potential.

Life at times -- like the Meadowlands -- stinks. It may seem to be filled with discarded hopes and rotting dreams. Yet we live in it. And we need people to teach us its rich possibilities. We need people to show us the wealth that is within us and right at our feet. What Sullivan did for the Meadowlands, saints do for the church. Beneath their varied lives and ministries, they share in common a conviction that life is good because life is graced with the presence of God.

They may have seemed odd characters to those who knew them. But they took to heart the God-man who came to earth and revealed an Eden in the swamp of human history. The Kingdom is here. It is where the saints tell us to look for all the wealth we need.

Fr. James Stephen Behrens is a monk at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Ga.

National Catholic Reporter, June 3, 2005

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