God Where I Don't Expect Him
This moment: late sun flying low in the sapphire sky, shedding light like gold rain that soaks the air and seeps in through the open window as I lie all jetlagged and sleepy on the couch.
Peonies on the table, just three in an old glass bottle, faces arcing toward the light.
Picture books piled on the floor, a trove of gems culled from a visit back west.
Quiet that feels like gift and burden all at the same time, no deadline or schedule, no place-to-be hurry reaching into this moment to drain its rest but a sense of restlessness at its back.
And her: baby weight resting full on my chest as I lie on the couch in the gold dust hush of a day that was hot and now has been healed by shadow. Her breath in its quick, infant rise and fall, the fragile rhythm I so often check, afraid that the music might cease. Her hands in their sleepy curl, their questing, tired grasp of my finger. Her head, nestled in under my chin, pushed up, up, up, always closer, as if she would shape my body to her curled little self once more.
This baby, my gift, the shifter of my whole self, the darling tyrant over my time. This baby, in whose presence I am relearning God's presence and my own way of being in the world, a shift in sight I feared before it happened.
In the early days of my pregnancy with Lilian, I wrestled with a hearty dose of anxiety. This unremitting back-of-my-psyche feeling that something was wrong and that I wouldn't be able to manage what was coming. I'm learning that its part of the hormonal process for me, but the hormones just magnify whatever fear is actually there. I feared injury or catastrophe (for us both). I feared death. I fretted about the challenge of raising a child in the modern world. I feared change - in my marriage, my time, my vision of the future. But do you know one of the things I feared most?
Mundanity. Repetition. Countless days with no horizon beyond baby care.
I wasn't afraid of the work, I was afraid of meaninglessness. I'm a dreamy idealist at home in books and big ideas. I love beauty, I'm restless for adventure. I do keep my house as tight a ship as I can, but laundry isn't my favorite and it's a work of disciplined will to clean my bathroom. Funny as it may sound, the prospect of days mired in diapers, baths, feeding, and sitting at home with a little person who couldn't talk left me profoundly anxious that I would become dry in soul and restless in spirit.
I told this to a mentor of mine here and he smiled. Hmm, he said. I wonder if what you're really fearing is that you will lose the presence of God. I thought that was a bit of a leap, but I listened as he explained. We all have a way we are used to finding God, he said, a certain rhythm of being, an emotional or mental state we seek by habit that helps us to come to a place of peace or prayer, centredness or calm. If, like you (he said), by nature usually find joy in the transcendent - in movement and travel, in big ideas and long times of reading and huge swathes of silence - the prospect of a life in which those activities are severely curbed can make you feel that you’ll lose your way to comfort or hope, to God.
I’ve contemplated this often in the months since Lilian’s birth because I've realized its largely true. Early morning quiet times have been a basic rhythm of my life for most of my adult life. And those are simply not happening in this season. There just isn't time for long swathes of reading (the way I've always known to bring my soul to centre and health) or profound journaling more than once every week or two. And in my more exhausted moments, I have felt a little panicky. How can I find God? How will I keep hold of hope, or the bigger picture of love and holiness which is, after all, what I'm hoping to raise Lilian to love?
But in the midst of this new whirlwind I've sought again and agin to act upon the words of my mentor. Because after identifying the fear, he set me a challenge; to rediscover God in the places I don't expect to find him. He reframed my fear as an invitation to discover that God is not bounded to just the places I have found him before. He truly is the Spirit who sings and whispers in every corner of our existence. My mentor, that day, gave me a few ways to focus on the present, to draw my attention, my hunger for comfort or hope, into the present by focusing on a single detail - Lilian's eyes, the color of the sky, the rhythm of our breath as it seems to mingle when I hold her to my heart when she falls asleep. What I am discovering, what, let us be honest, I am learning to discover when I choose to slow down and see is that Lilian's presence is an invitation into a kind and depth of loving I couldn't imagine before I encountered the utter trust of this baby.
I struggle greatly with it at times. The immediacy of baby care is a shocking sweetness but also the kind of all-encompassing work that swallows whole days before you know you've blinked. Feeding follows napping follows changing follows playing follows rocking-a-baby-who-wrestles-with-sleep... to sleep. And ten minutes after you've sat down, it all begins over again. I get so weary, as all new mothers do.
But my wrestle has been to keep my mind from disengaging and instead to draw my full attention into the minute miracles of Lilian and her burgeoning life. In them, I am beginning to understand a little more of the way that God views me, celebrates and delights in the smallest attention I give him, the growth I manage despite my immaturity.
I watch this blue-eyed baby whose gaze follows mine with a loving intensity whose match I've never quite met (unless it was in those early days of falling in love with Thomas) and I realize how precious the gaze of a child is to a parent. How precious mine is to God. I watch the minute changes of growth and development in Lilian (she can point her tongue! she ate her foot! she rolled over!) that come to me like revelations and I understand how precious my slow growth is to my own Father. I learn about the capacity we have for love, an almost terrifying depth. My love for Lilian seems oceanic, cosmic, suffusing my whole being, but it is only an echo, a radiant glint of the love God bears for every single one of us.
In Lilian, in this tiny person who summons me by her need and trust into this moment, this place, this person, I am discovering the God who lurks and shimmers, waiting to surprise us with his own extravagantly-given presence, his own mother-like attention to our need and hunger, our frailty, our budding affection. Truly, he cradles us as I cradle Lilian, he is present to me as I am to her.
And the gift of love that is this child o' mine just keeps on growing. Even amidst the mundane details I dreaded. In fact, they are becoming a gift...