Michael McCarthy

In a Word: from Michael McCarthy’s Blog

I recall making an embarrassing (and revelatory) utterance some years back while participating at a youth leadership conference in Syracuse, NY. During one of the small group discussions (in which I was serving as the facilitator), a young person was describing a colorful banner that his parish youth group created for display in their church. He described the lettering and symbols of this multicolored banner as a beautiful mix of bright reds, oranges, blues, purples, greens, on a (struggling a bit to identify the background color) off-white or light tan background canvas. “Oh, you mean flesh color,” I uttered trying to be helpful. A moment later, my eyes met with the eyes of a young woman sitting across from me. She gently, yet confidently declared: “What you describe as flesh color is not the color of my flesh.”

A powerful moment! Deep-rooted biases were unveiled by the utterance of a word.


Hearth is a great word. It conjures up images of sitting cozy by the fireplace sharing stories. I am sipping a glass of fine wine and feeling warm inside and out – – intoxicated with the pulsation of life’s goodness. Hearth is a place of comfort – – a place where one feels “at home.”   It’s a point of connection with true blue friends and family. We are sitting around the fire with those we love.   Hearth is a foundation. It is both a springboard and a destination. There’s no place like hearth.

Let’s take another look at what’s literally in the word hearth. “Heart” makes up the first five letters of heart-h. “Earth” spells out the last five letters of h-earth. Heart and earth! It’s the individual and the collective, the personal and the social, and the micro and the macro. Earth and heart! Powerful rivers cascade with abundant life on the big blue planet. My beating heart brings the life-blood of love and nutrition to my body. We are sustained by heart and earth. Our eternal longings rest in hearth. Earth and heart truly linked in the dynamic force of creation.

Before we journey on, let’s examine a few more ingredients of hearth. Right from the start of the word, we are reminded twice how important a listening stance is. “Hear” (and “ear”) form the beginning of the word hear-th. Seek first to listen . . . Listening is indeed a stance, a choice, an attitude, a way of life. Take in. Take note. Absorb. Soak up. Wait. Quiet the mind. Ponder. Receive. See, feel, touch, taste, and hear before saying a word.

Art is also in the mix of he-art-h. Be the artist you are. Trust your creative juices. Use your playful imagination. Approach life as a skilled artisan e.g., a painter or dancer or musician or craftsperson or whatever artiste you already are or want to be. Be bold with your colors. Sing a new song. Take a chance with that unusual idea. Improvise when it feels right. Plan well, but then go with the flow. Draw the lines straight so that you can color outside them, at least once in a while. Be artful. Design! Invent! Originate! Be full of hearth.

Back to Flesh

First off, as I have learned, skin comes in many colors. Our skin is so fragile. Each of us bleeds when cut. On certain days, tears will roll down our cheeks. Bodies may be the temples of our souls, but our bones break as does our hearts. Flesh is soft. It reminds us of our humanity. Flesh also brings great pleasure. A timely back rub or scratch. Taste buds signaling delicious food. Good sex. Flesh brings us together. Our very existence is dependent upon it. We long to touch and be touched.  Flesh is nice. And it is elastic and resilient. Yes, we are flesh people.   And we are radically attracted to each other. We are social beings. It’s in our very make-up. “And the Word became flesh . . .”


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