Finding the Divine in Moss

Do you remember the first time you noticed moss?

I do. I was a child, young enough that I wasn’t in school yet, and my mother was taking my brother and me for a walk in the woods. Before she had children, my mother worked as an environmental scientist, doing ecosystem assessments for an engineering firm. She was (and still is) intimately familiar with the things that live and grow in and around the region of the US I grew up in, and she used to take us for walks in the woods and fields near our hometown (and anywhere we happened to be visiting), pointing out that plant and this bird and explaining how amphibians are indicator species for stream health and how to differentiate animal tracks. I think four-year-old Grace knew more about the saltmarsh ecosystems of the Atlantic seaboard than most of the adults who lived there, both because wetlands are mom’s favourite, and because child Grace had an encyclopaedic knowledge of birds. (Adult Grace does not; at some point my brain decided that a keener awareness of social conventions in school was more important than bird identification and jettisoned my bird knowledge.)

But anyway, back to moss. I remember my mother explaining the difference between mosses and lichens, how they grew and why, and what made them different from other plants.

Moss has always seemed like a fuzzy little miracle to me. One of the first plants, incredibly tiny, but almost impossible to kill. Most mosses will grow anywhere damp enough. They don’t have roots and so don’t need soil. They can go dormant for centuries, waiting for the right conditions to start growing again. And in certain ecosystems, they form mats thick enough that eventually, other plants can just use the moss as soil. Other creatures live in moss, mostly microorganisms, some of which live no where else.

And moss itself is beautiful. Delicate, many coloured little structures, as complex as snowflakes and almost as tiny. But it is also incredibly overlooked. Especially in the UK, where moss will grow on pretty much anything that stands still long enough, we don’t look for moss like we might flowers. It’s just there, in pavement cracks and on roofs and boulders and benches, an annoyance we scrape off of things. To me, moss is so hopeful. Tiny and unnoticed, growing where nothing else can, and paving the way for other things to literally grow through it.

I struggle with imposter syndrome, and with feeling like I am doing enough. Being good enough, working hard enough, devoting enough time and energy to other people. Sometimes, it helps me to think of myself as moss. I don’t have to be doing big things. I just have to be moss. Be small and helpful and let other things grow from my work. I just have to do my little part.

St Therese of Lisieux had a very similar philosophy, which is often referred to as the ‘Little Way’. She talks about wanting to ‘strew flowers before Thee’, by which she means countless small acts of kindness and love. She felt incapable of doing ‘great works’ (and lived in a society that actively prevented her from doing them), so she chose to be a beacon of love and light as much as she could.

I have complicated feelings about St Therese. But much as she wanted to be Jesus’s ‘Little Flower’, showering the world in rose petals of kindness, I can always lean back on just being moss. I don’t have to be the greatest or the best or the loudest voice. I just need to be there, supporting my own tiny ecosystem, and helping other things grow.

God doesn’t ask us to succeed, God just asks us to show up and to try. And even when I feel powerless, I know that I can be moss.