I have a five year old son who, like so many five year old sons, is a handful. He is precocious and smart, naturally funny and so charismatic that I worry he’ll wind up a televangelist. He almost never stops talking, and even more rarely stops moving. My father likes to point out that when my kids come over, the noise level rivals his Vietnam days – but this is true even when four of them are quietly eating. The five year old is a one-man Airborne division.
You might be able to guess at the energy required to parent this one, day in and day out. But at bedtime every night – or at least, every night that I’m able to lay with him in bed while my spouse is helping the other kids – my son has a ritual that makes me forget all of the physical and emotional labor that went into mothering him during the day.
He’ll toss and turn for a few minutes, wrapping and unwrapping himself in the covers, sometimes murmuring quietly to a stuffed animal under his breath. Then, right before he senses that he’s about to fall asleep, this mile-an-hour kid finds me in the darkness, strokes my hair with his little hand, and kisses me on the cheek. Seconds later, he is snoring.
In today’s Psalm, God is described in these words: gracious, merciful, slow to anger, kind, good, compassionate. A picture is painted here of a Divine Parent Creator who is tender and benevolent, one who loves extravagantly and without losing patience.
I can’t say that this is true of my own motherhood. But I can say that, just as our Gospel reading attests to, this Parental God has been known to hide the mysteries of faith from the “wise” and reveal them – dare we say embody them? – to and through the littlest ones.
After a long, hard day of caregiving it is graciousness, kindness, that restore my soul – the sweet little lips against my cheek, an embodiment of the promises of God. When my yoke feels the most difficult, when my burden feels heaviest, it is compassion that gives me rest.
You see? God seems to whisper in the darkness surrounding that twin sized bed, There is always mercy. There is always tenderness. I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul – even if it’s at 9pm in your son’s cramped bed.
So often our religious imaginations fashion a God who is harsh, judgmental, and aloof. When this is the kind of God we form our minds around, is it any wonder that the yoke of our spirituality is difficult and our burden heavy?
Today’s readings combine like a chorus to tell us about the character of the God who created (and continues to create) us. Rather than harsh and judgmental, this God of ours is gracious and merciful. Rather than demanding perfection, this God is slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Rather than remaining aloof, this God has compassion on us.
How do we go from knowing this in our heads to believing it, through and through? Believing it so much that it actually changes us?
Teresa of Avila once wrote,
“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks
Compassion on this world.”
Have we considered that these are more than mere marching orders for doing good deeds in the world? That these might be instructions for how to see, not just how to be?
Because if it is true of you that you are the hands and feet of God, then it is also true of those who touch and serve you. It is also true that when they hug you, when they cook for you, when they mail you a card, when they pick you up a coffee unasked – when they lean over in their Spiderman pajamas and kiss your cheek, that it is God’s tenderness doing so to you. Helping you believe all over again. Offering the rest promised to you. Reminding you that the burden is light.
Shannon K. Evans
Shannon K. Evans
Shannon K. Evans is the spirituality and culture editor at the National Catholic Reporter and the author of the books Feminist Prayers for My Daughter: Powerful Petitions for Every Stage of Her Life and Rewilding Motherhood: Your Path to an Empowered Feminine Spirituality.
With interest in ecofeminism, social change and contemplative practice, Shannon leads workshops and retreats across the country that spark curiosity and compassion. She has partnered with the Jesuits of Canada and the U.S. and is a frequent contributor to Franciscan Media.
Having previously lived in Indonesia for two years, Shannon loves to travel, but is happiest at home on the Iowa prairie with her family and beloved chickens.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
“Catholic Women Preach is one of the more inspiring collection of homilies available today. Based on the deep spirituality and insights of the various women authors, the homilies are solidly based on the scriptures and offer refreshing and engaging insights for homilists and listeners. The feminine perspective has long been absent in the preached word, and its inclusion in this work offers a long overdue and pastorally necessary resource for the liturgical life of the Church.” - Catholic Media Association
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