"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Child's Self-Discovery

It is a deeply moving thing to watch Clara discover. Discover herself, discover her surroundings.

I’ve watched her not really know she had thumbs and fingers, then gradually discover these appendages could be excellent instruments for self-soothing, so much that I now have to wrestle her hand out of her mouth when I’m switching from one bottle to the next.

I’ve watched her discover how mirrors work; she at times seems to prefer the mirror images of things rather than the real things themselves. (Which I find cute, not some kind of Platonic crisis).

I’ve watched her discover the strength in her legs, from being mostly motionless while lying on me to pushing herself off my hands, seemingly coming close to catapulting herself off of me…as well as discover how to “bounce” in her new “ExerSaucer” and finding great delight in such movements.

I’ve watched her discover how to watch TV; Mama and Daddy have had to begin enforcing TV rules much earlier than anticipated.

I’ve watched her discover smiling, from early on when she only seemed to smile when she farted (can’t blame her) to now smiling interactively, responding to her parents' faces and voices with delight.

I’ve watched her discover how to produce sounds. I don’t think she gets credit yet for actual words, though I can tell she’s mimicking us and trying. Last night she said “ee-uh-oo”, which sounded an awful lot like “I love you.” She knows how to converse, it seems, as we often go back and forth, speaking and listening without interrupting each other.

I’ve watched her discover compassion. I will admit this belief is almost certainly based more on feeling than reason, wishful thinking than science. The other night I had some stomach pain. While Clara was lying on my chest, head down, turned to the side, fairly still but eyes open, I let out a “yelp” of pain. Clara quickly raised her head, and looked me in the eye with the most concerned look on her face, mouth in kind of an O-shape, eyes wide open, head just slightly slanted to the side. My daughter empathized with me.

In the spirit of Julian of Norwich (subject of a paper I'm working on), a theologian who took seriously her own experience as a “text” for her understanding of God, I’m struck by the image of God conveyed in this experience. Julian (in Revelations of Divine Love) had a vision of something very small, and marveled at how something so small could last, endure, not simply fade away. Her conclusion? God made it, God loves it, God cares for it. Julian "saw" something simple, which led her to a profound realization about God's attitude toward creation.

I hear much more about the love of God, the power of God…much less about the joy of God. Yet I watch Clara, and as I consider my joy at my child’s self-discovery, I wonder if this isn’t something like what God experiences, to the nth degree: an unfathomable amount of delight in watching creation “discover” itself.

Trees learning how to dig deep roots. Animals learning how to find food. Humans learning that nine times nine is eighty-one and how to make wine and how to create wind energy and how to kiss each other and how to build web pages.

I imagine rather than simply an impassible, distant God who loves because God’s nature is love, as we often learn in church (which can sound like God is just "bound" to love and has no say in the matter, though I know that's not exactly what is meant)…that God is filled with joy, that God reacts, responds, is engaged with the self-discovery of creation.

If Clara can bring me this much joy, how much more joy does God, who knows Clara better than I do, experience? And think of how many “Claras” God knows?

Thank you Clara. I can see you are going to be one of my best teachers in the coming years.


Jeff Borden said...

Matt, are you becoming a mystic? Or have you always been, but simply discovering that you are? ;)

Matt Boswell said...

What can I say? Aquinas and Luther just aren't enough. :)