A newborn child in the arms of her mother awakens to self-consciousness, to an awareness of her “I,” through encountering the “You” of her mother. Looking into the face and into the eyes of the one who holds her, and who smiles lovingly upon her, the child spontaneously smiles back. She knows what a smile means, though no one has ever explained it to her. Indeed, she has a profound, wordless intuition, which will be the foundation of the rest of her life, which sets the stage for all of her other experiences. She understands purely: You… I… and the Love between us.
In this instant of profound recognition, the child awakens to what it means to be a person, a person unique within herself, and yet open to another. Even more, she, as person, is a gift from another, not only biologically, but spiritually, for it is love that has brought her to birth and love that awakens her now to consciousness. This love, like the arms of her mother, envelops her and shelters her; it holds her unceasingly. In other words, the child senses that Love is indeed the ground of all being, that it is the truest and most authentic thing in reality—or rather that, in the end, it is the only ultimate thing, which is present in everything and gives everything meaning.
As she grows older, this same intuition is manifest in play—in that joyful and carefree playfulness that sees each moment and each encounter, not as a burdensome responsibility, but as a pure gift, a gift to be received, enjoyed, and delighted in. The child’s whole outlook on life is one of trust-filled receptivity, of openness to the gift that unceasingly comes to her in each moment. And from where does this gift come? It comes from the Love that encompasses her and shelters all things within itself. It is as though the whole of creation is immersed in an immense Ocean of Love, and nothing can occur outside of this. She glimpsed this Love first in her mother and her father. She knew it, indeed, before she was even born—for in the womb she was sheltered on all sides by love, and experienced this love as the entire truth of her life. She was sheltered thus in order to grow, to develop, and to be born into the wide world—a world which is meant to be but a deepening and blossoming of loving relationship, a relationship that she already began to experience in the womb of her mother.
As she grows—or perhaps indeed from the first moment of intuition—this little child believes in God. We are all born, it is said, as theists. This is only natural, because our hearts abide in ceaseless relationship with the One who holds us at every moment in existence, and who continually communicates himself to us. The child believes in God because she believes in Love—a Love that is present and manifest in her mother and father, but yet which envelops them as well, and is therefore greater than they are. For they love me, but they are not absolute. From where have they come? I have come from love, and their love enfolds me; but they too have come from love, and are enfolded in it. Therefore Love is greater than all of us, though it is intimately present to us too.
The parents, recognizing this spontaneous acknowledgment on the part of the child, should help the child to grow up into an explicit acknowledgment of this greater and all-enveloping Love. They should help her to come to recognize that it is not just an abstract or impersonal force, but a Person, and indeed a Community of Persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in whose mysterious embrace we are all ceaselessly immersed.
But here precisely is where the danger lies: that the child’s spontaneous confidence in Love will be weakened or destroyed. As she grows older, perhaps she will experience abuse or abandonment—or undergo experiences which she interprets to be a betrayal of love. In this way her sense of utter security, the profound awareness of her belovedness—in which she knows immediately her own identity as one who is loved—can be threatened or called into question.
Beforehand, she was totally open, without “barriers” of fearful or defensive self-consciousness. She would ask questions without thought of propriety, for she knew that she was loved; she would explore reality, and especially the mysterious being of the other persons who surround her, so bizarre, so unexpected, and yet so beautiful. And her own being, her own body, is but a wonder—and she is filled with awe. Yes, she is filled with awe at the slightest things: a rock, a tree, a flower, at the way that things move (for water and solid objects fall downward but birds and steam and smoke rise upward), and indeed at all the mysteries of life.
In all of this we see the remnants of pristine and unspoiled nature that remain in the existence of every person—a kind of sanctuary that God has sheltered in the midst of a fallen world. In this child’s experience of belovedness, she knows what truly matters, and what truly endures. She knows that she is loved, that she comes from love and remains in love, and receives all things as a gift from love—and nothing, nothing unfolds outside of this. Her whole life, her own unique existence, and indeed the whole world, is encircled in the mystery of Love, is cradled in the arms of Love.
This pristine beauty at the heart of our existence is indeed a sign of more than mere remnants of unspoiled nature, impressed with the beauty of the image of God and the semblance of his glory; it is also a sign of the human spirit that is incarnate within this nature, at home within it and yet also surpassing it. In the very ability to have such an intuition—a recognition of gift, of love, of beauty—the spirit proves that its nature is greater than nature. For the human person never lives in a mere “environment” in which things are only means to satisfy the needs of nature. No, in us is something radically different than can be found in any other creatures of this earth: the mystery of awe, of wonder, of questioning—and a restless desire for intimate personal relationship and for a mystery that this world cannot give. For us, the earth is much more than a mere “environment;” it is indeed, a “world,” a cosmos, and a drama of immense beauty and mystery that unfolds before and around us. It is, really, a game—a participation in the divine playfulness—which we are granted to enter into and to play, and from which indeed we have been created.
The human spirit, therefore, is at home within nature, and yet also not at home within it. The little child is utterly open, naively open, to all that surrounds her, but she also learns to turn in upon herself and to wonder at herself. She wonders not only at the marvel of her body, how it looks and how it moves, but at the marvel of her mind, her emotions, her whole interior realm of consciousness. Of course, she does not conceptualize this wonder at herself, and turn like a philosopher to analyze it. Rather, it is present like a horizon in the midst of her outward-looking attitude and relationship with the world. Things outside of her awaken inside reactions; music makes her feel a certain way; nursing at the breast offers another marvelous experience; when she is a bit older, trying to walk fills her with yet another; gazing out upon the starry sky at night; laying in her crib before falling asleep, the faces of her parents and siblings passing her mind’s eye like ships passing by on the waves, and she loves them all, as they love her.
And within the midst of all this awareness—outward directed and yet resounding deeply within the world of her own subjective, personal life—there is another flame that gently and yet powerfully burns. It is a kind of restlessness, a desire, which looks beyond all of these things to something more. It is the horizon of all horizons, the intuition of all intuitions: that the Love she encounters in each and every thing also envelops everything, and, yes, transcends it all boundlessly in its greatness. She encounters every concrete, limited, finite thing against a horizon of infinity. She encounters every moment, every temporal experience against a horizon of eternity. And she cannot help but yearn for these things—for an infinity in which all goodness and beauty, all joy and delight, are present without limitation; and for this infinity to be embraced, and to embrace her, in a never ending intimacy which will never lessen or be taken away. It is thus that she knows God, even if she has never been told about his existence, or his name, or his nature.
Now, just as her intuition about the utter strength and trustworthiness of Love can be threatened from without, we must now also acknowledge that it is threatened from within. While the child bears the enduring mark of the Creator’s hand upon her nature and in the depths of her spirit, she also bears other marks, the marks of sin and fallenness. For she has inherited a nature that is fractured and corrupted—and the beauty of this nature exists in the midst of brokenness and obscurity. Thus she will be tempted to turn away from Love, and from those who love her, not only because of what comes from without, but also from the awakening of disordered tendencies within her.
Her heart’s inmost movement and desire is to go out of itself and to unite with the beauty, goodness, and truth outside of her, and to welcome it totally into herself; but she also bears a movement to close in on herself and to refuse open communication. She is tempted, also, to grasp, possess, and dominate, rather than to receive and respond in the purity of love.
In the depths of her heart—in the mysterious core of her being where her spirit stands naked before God—she has a kind of “memory” of Love, of being fashioned by the hands of Love and of being ceaselessly held by Love. This is, as it were, the “fingerprint” of God impressed upon her heart, which can never be effaced. But it is nonetheless so easy to forget this, for her spirit is joined to a nature that bears marks of brokenness and sin, a nature that is old, though she herself is young. And indeed, this very “memory” of her spirit, of her inner heart, has a remembrance also of loss—for humanity has separated itself from God and collapsed upon itself.
For if it is true that the spirit’s inner movement is one of self-transcendence toward the beloved and of ceaseless acceptance of their gift, she also has a kind of awareness that this dynamic relationship does not exist in the fullness that it ought. In other words, her heart is inherently open to the mystery of grace and a living relationship with God, but this relationship and openness is something that has been lost, and now exists in the form of longing, longing for the restoration of the relationship that was broken. In Baptism such a union is re-established in its fullness within the depths of her being, and the relationship is vividly remade. Her daughterhood thus is fulfilled, elevated, and consummated—as she is not only a daughter of her parents, nor a daughter of God by nature, but a daughter by direct participation in the life of the heavenly Father. As tiny as she is, she is a “daughter in the Son,” in the One who (though she does not know it) has united himself forever to her fallen nature and has restored it to its true dignity, and, indeed, has raised it even more. In the depths of her spirit, and, indeed, in the realm of her nature and her body, renewed by water and the Spirit, the nuptial bond of love between God and his creature is forged. Now she does, indeed, bear the most tremendous mystery within her tiny breast—not only the gift of natural life, which is a cause of such wonder, but the supernatural life of adoption into the living relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If only this mystery, like a tiny seed bearing infinite power buried in the soil of her soul, is sheltered, nourished, and fostered, it will grow and mature, blossoming and giving forth its flowers, its beauty, its fragrance. Her daughterhood will mature, not into a false sense of independence and autonomy, but from a mere dependence on her earthly parents to a loving and trust-filled dependence on the Father of heaven and earth, in whom she finds her true freedom blossom. So too, this daughterhood will blossom in a life of prayer and of love, in which the naivete of a child will give way to the mature love of a bride—unto the very consummation of the wedding-bond between her and her Christ. And this union of a daughter-become-bride will also manifest the beauty and fruitfulness of a bride-become-mother. In this way, her own heart and life becomes transparent to this Love that she knew as a child, this Love that envelopes her and irradiates her being.
She has left behind childishness now, but in doing so has only become more a child—as her childish and self-centered nature has returned from fragmentation into its interior truth, into living relationship with God, and, in him, with all of creation. Thus, that which she knew as a little one in her mother’s arms, or playing carelessly in the grass, she now knows in the fullness of maturity: that she is indeed a little one who is cradled in the arms of eternal Love, and thus her whole existence is sheltered, penetrated, and illumined by this Love. And therefore she can simply open herself anew to the gift of every moment, knowing that Love is present and at work in it, bestowing himself upon her and drawing her anew deeper into himself. Yes, she can enter into the inmost place of her heart, where her restless spirit reaches out to infinity, and can here find rest, laying her head upon the breast of Love, who is present to her intimately in this place.
In all of this, we see that human existence is a great mystery—a mystery that is a gift of “already” and an invitation to what is “not yet.” The little child is already the person whom she will always be. Her unique personal mystery, her identity, her belovedness in the Father’s eyes is something that will never change, which is always fully present. God is present to her in the fullness of his eternity, and his gaze of love constitutes her in fullness as the person that she is, here and now. He loves her and thus makes her beautiful, but in gazing upon the beauty that he has given her, he is moved to love her anew, by the beauty that he sees. This loving gaze of God is the all-enveloping truth that gives meaning to every moment of her life, to her whole existence.
Indeed, it gives meaning to and makes possible the other aspect, the “not yet” of her human existence and personal blossoming. In other words, human life is already given, and yet it is also a process, a movement of growth and maturation. In the profound intuition of childhood—this mysterious communion with the dimension of gift enveloping all things—the child manifests a kind of anticipation of what awaits her at the end of her life, and in eternity. In other words, her human childhood is a promise and a call to grow into true maturity—the maturity which is the blossoming of childlike relationship with the Father in trust and love. And the beautiful thing is that she is already in intimate relationship with the Father, because he is in intimate relationship with her. Even if she struggles to believe in it and experience it, she is already and always cradled in the arms of Love, in the embrace of the Trinity. In a word, she finds the strength, courage, and confidence to walk toward the “not yet” by her gratitude for the “already” which envelops and shelters her.
This same dual mystery of “already” and “not yet” becomes vividly present again and again throughout life. When, later in life, she comes to love another person deeply and intimately, it is as though she finds herself becoming a child again—filled with the same sense of wonder, of awe, of gratitude, and aware of her littleness and dependency on sustaining Love, which is now manifest as enveloping, holding, and sheltering the beloved too. The same experience is true when she herself becomes a mother, and holds her own child within her arms. In looking at this little one, she is brought back to her own childhood—both that in her past and that which endures to this day—and also glimpses anew how the Father sees and loves her. Finally, as she nears the end of her life, and her powers fail her, her restless heart reaches out anew for sheltering and cradling Love, the Love who will soon take her completely to himself. In aging and illness she learns to become a little child again—yet this time in full human maturity—and to abandon herself into the arms of the One who comes to take her beyond the boundary of death.
Yes, the “already” and “not yet” will become one, coinciding in a single moment, when she offers herself in that last, final gift of love, which is the definitive surrender of death. Here she can finally abandon herself totally, making her whole being—body, soul, and her very life—a gift to God and to others, in such a way that she can never take it back again. And in this gift, the Love that she has received finally carries her fully back into himself… into the Love toward which she has ceaselessly aspired.
And one day she will awake anew within her flesh, rising on the last day in the final Resurrection, and her humanity will at last receive its definitive consummation. Here her childlike maturity will be fully expressed in a body which joins perfectly in itself childhood, middle age, and old age, all together as one—and yet expresses each only in the unique beauty and meaning that it bears within itself, with none of its imperfection. Her body will radiate with the inner truth of her own inmost spirit, her personhood, nothing in it hindering the full expression of her being and her love. For now she is utterly pure of heart and flesh, and liberated not only from the effects of sin, suffering, and death, but from the very imperfect processes of created time.
She has entered into endless communion with the eternal God—and with every person within him, enfolded in his Love—and is utterly irradiated by his divine, threefold light. Her nuptial union with the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, is consummated, and she is taken up in him unto “the full maturity” to which she has been called. And in this maturity of intimate union, she rests, as a little child, infinitely loved, upon the breast of the eternal Father. Together, she breathes with the Father and the Son the one Holy Spirit whom they eternally share, this gift of perfect and unbreakable intimacy passing between them and filling them utterly, allowing them to live wholly within one another, in a single life of boundless and eternal joy.