Sienna will be two years old in a couple of months. She has a unique personality. Sometimes, she just wants what she wants. When she wants it. And she doesn’t always warm up to people very easily… but we think that may be because she is coming of age during a pandemic, a time of much less interaction and socializing. She hasn’t wandered over to other kids in a playground with curiosity or been picked up and doted upon by a large number of adults. Her world has been made smaller than usual because of COVID.
But she is a sweetheart. Grandfathers think that about their granddaughters and I will happily be no exception here. Recently, I’ve noticed that she is coming over to me more often, letting me pick her up. She loves it when I walk around the house pointing to things and naming them. She then tries in her distinct and still forming voice to copy me. More and more, she reaches her arms around my neck and hugs me. She is full of tenderness and trust.
But if her big brother grabs something she has set her sights upon or if she takes a tumble on the hardwood floor in her family room, she will let everyone know that she is not happy. If I try to soothe her in those times, it’s just no use – she only wants her mommy or daddy. If she is frightened by Lucy, a small but tenacious poodle mix, she lets you know of her displeasure by vigorously calling out to her mommy or daddy. And when her bowl full of peanut butter puffs isn’t enough to satisfy her appetite, you’ll know it. It’s only her mommy or daddy who can come to the rescue.
Sienna is small, helpless, dependent, possesses limited control over… everything… and is quite vulnerable in the world. But, she is thoroughly and completely trusting of those who she knows will take care of her. She is an awful lot like… most of us once were.
I’ll come back to Sienna in a minute…
The older I get, the more mystified I am by the great mystery of the Trinity. You might think that as I age and learn more and more about my faith, as I seek and ponder, I might come to see this more clearly. But I don’t. We have one God. But there are three persons. There is a Father who created everything, and his Son who existed before time… along with his Father… and then also a commissioned Advocate who remains with us still. There are three. But it’s all just one. Huh?
The part that might give me the most trouble of all is trying to get my head around the relationship between the Father and the Son. In our expression of faith, the Nicene Creed, we hear that Jesus was “begotten, not made”. When was the last time you used this word in a sentence: begotten? It’s this one word, however, that give us the greatest insight into who Jesus was.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity notes that: “When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself.” This means that I can make a birdhouse or a big salad but I can’t beget them. When it comes to begetting, I can only participate in the creation of something that is just like me, namely another human. This means that Jesus was of the same nature as his Father, that is to say… divine.
This is why I paid particular attention to the opening line from today’s second reading in the Letter from John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Wait, does that say what I think it says? That everyone who loves is begotten by God? Begotten? Begotten… of all things? So, we possess something of the same exact nature as God who more than merely makes us… he begets us.
The essential nature of God is love. We know that.
We are to love one another. We know that too.
But when we love, when we love one another… then we are begotten, not made, by the one whose essential nature is love itself. This is the ticket… the one each of us should clamor for, reach our outstretched and longing arms to grab onto. More than that even, this is the very reason why were begotten in the first place. What a gift!
I once heard Father Mike Schmitz say that in his priestly vocation, whenever he has had the privilege of accompanying someone as they were getting ready to transition from this life to the next, he has noticed that some have a better time of it than others. He has pondered this and noticed that it’s not the length or even perceived quality of life that matters. It’s something else altogether. Those who have a happy death are the ones who lived their lives believing that everything was a gift. Who felt gratitude. Those who struggled most of all were the ones filled with resentment and who felt cheated somehow. This point really resonates with me because I have noticed this too.
Fr. Mike talks about a 15 year old boy who was coming to the end and who told him that he felt so lucky to have had great parents and great siblings, that he loved his school and was grateful for that time his family went on a big trip someplace. This boy had a very happy death. Fr. Mike also talks about the people he met who lived long and quite full lives, but who felt anger and resentment for the fact that theirs was coming to an end. Unfortunately, these struggle mightily at the end.
Everything as gift. This is the key.
We were created to love. To experience it sure, but really… to give it. Abundantly. Without expectation of payback. A gift truly given demands no reward.
Small children like Sienna are vulnerable and helpless. We all were when we were younger.
But then we grow up, face the world, grow wiser and wearier, and experience hardship and loss. We face challenges and so most of us adapt, get tougher skinned in the process. We hike up over high hills and plod through low valleys. We convince ourselves that we have some measure of control, that if we do certain things we can reduce unpredictability and that bad, random things just won’t happen to us. But that sense of control is only an illusion… a myth. We all move forward, though, each by a distinct path, finding our way ahead on a trail of our own making.
Small children like Sienna are vulnerable and helpless. But they are also trusting of the ones who give them abundant love. For those of us further up along the trail, we’re still just as vulnerable and helpless. But, we oftentimes lose our trust of the one who loves us most of all. Who created us out of love so that we can love. So that we can be just like Him.
I am going to try to acknowledge my vulnerability and lack of any meaningful control. Through humility.
I am going to try to trust more. By surrender.
I’m going to try to love more. Like our Creator.
And… I’m going to try to be more like Sienna.
Because wherever my trail may lead to up ahead… I know that it’s all a gift.
It’s all a gift.