The Word Embodied
“You shall be carried in her arms.”
The first Pope John Paul, that smiling priest who reigned only a few weeks, reminded us that God is not only a father, but a mother as well. Was he influenced by the words of Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”?
The image suggests a privileged intimacy, a wondrous dependency, even a child’s first ecstasy. Have you ever seen a nursing babe, arms outstretched and lost in speechless delight? Is that what Isaiah was getting at? Is that how God is to us?
Though we live in a time when some mothers abandon children or even end their lives for some ungodly reason, there is something deep in us that says, if we cannot trust a mother’s love, what else is there we might trust?
If the God we worship is imaged in a mother’s love, how could we ever fear peril? How could our deepest heart’s desires not be met? Even in the midst of threats or most painful relinquishments, we need not worry. The love that holds us close is the final act.
Since the cross of Christ reveals God’s undying bond with us, Paul can voice a fearless proclamation to the Galatians: “May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through it, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”
He is utterly rooted in trust, the blessed assurance in a God who bears and nourishes us, who wants only our life and flourishing, who would die for love of us. If we believe this rule of life, we find peace and mercy. “Henceforth let no one trouble me, for I bear the brand marks of Jesus on my body”
Yet troubled we are in this life’s sojourn. We hoard a stash of securities. Maybe they will be our insurance policy, our steadfast guards and providers. Worse, even ordinary journeys stir fears of insecurity. Any long walk, to say nothing of the walk of a lifetime, calls for baggage.
On my last long journey, to Africa, I hauled along antibiotics, muscle relaxants lest my back go out, hydrocortisone, Cutters lotion to keep the mosquitoes from my skin, and a net to keep them at an even greater distance. I brought books to ground me, mementoes to tell me who I was. I lugged a special pair of shoes, a raincoat to meet unplanned events. I almost bore my own hypodermics, lest my skin be pricked by some unsterilized invader.
How unlike the Seventy-two I was: they set out to every town as lambs among the wolves, I, an immunized calculator of risks. I carried not just a walking staff, but extra luggage for the change of seasons; not just a traveling bag, but boxes of insurance; not just sandals, but a reversible raincoat. I carried much more than the peace of Luke’s Gospel. In fact, having so much else, perhaps I never took time to bestow peace.
So I wonder. Who will truly harvest the mystery of our redemption? Will it be the likes of me, so prone to place my trust in trinkets rather than my God? Or will it be a traveler so light and unburdened that all around imagine nothing more wondrous to rely on than a God who would carry us in her arms and fondle us in her lap. “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University