My niece recently shared this picture of her husband looking at their newborn baby. I was so taken by his loving gaze, and how he seemed at once mesmerized and delighted by this amazing gift of life they had just welcomed into their family. I remember looking at my own sons in the same way after they were born, especially when I held them in my arms while nursing them. I would just stare at their tiny faces and hands with deep love, amazed and grateful to be a co-creator with God in bringing them into the world.
There is just something about babies—these tiny, helpless, vulnerable creatures—who have such power to evoke love within us. The greatest responses I receive to posts on Facebook, hands down, are the ones with pictures of my granddaughter. Seeing her prompts more “likes” and “loves” than anything else.
Imagine then, the love evoked in God when God looks upon us just as parents gaze upon their beloved children. The prophet Isaiah compared it to the love of a nursing mother: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” And that love of God continues as the child grows and matures. Elsewhere God is pictured as a mother eagle who helps her eaglets learn to fly on their own, while always ready to swoop underneath to catch them when they become too weary to continue: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead Jacob…” (Deuteronomy 32:11-12). Even when we go astray, God still loves us, hoping we will return to God’s care, just as a mother hen desires to enfold her chicks, as we hear in Jesus’ lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you refused!” (Luke 13:34).
Recently I read about a contemplative practice from spiritual writer James Finley which might help us experience God’s love for us in a new way, and especially now in this challenging time in which we are living. And so I share this practice with you today, as a way to ground yourself in the sustaining love of God:
“Sit and renew your awareness that you’re sitting in the presence of God all about you and within you. As you inhale, inhale God’s silent ‘I love you,’ in which God is being poured out and utterly given away to you as the miracle of your very life. Then when you exhale, exhale yourself in love: ‘I love you.’ And so, we are breathing [along with God], ‘I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” From the reciprocity of love, destiny is fulfilled, and the foundations of suffering are healed.
As we sit this way, suffering arises. The suffering then might be our anxiety and concerns today, for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the world. As we sit in the midst of the arising of the anxiety, when we inhale, we inhale this love of God loving us through and through, anxiety and all, finding no hindrance in our anxiety, loving us so unexplainably forever. Then when we exhale, we exhale ourselves in love, anxiety and all, to the love that loves us. This requires gentle perseverance, because anxiety arises again. It doesn’t automatically go away. We sit with it, we lean into it again, and we hold fast to this love that sustains us in the midst of things. It is in this way, little by little, that we come to understand the unsubstantiality of everything but love. Love and love alone has the authority to name who we are.”
May you know the deep love of God for you this day, empowering you to love others.