I was walking through the carpark into the supermarket when she waved at me and said hello. Well actually it was more like “ello” which is fair enough as she was only about 18 months old, sitting in the trolley while her mum packed bags of groceries into the boot of the car. “Ello” she called again with a giggle and so I stopped and had a chat with her and her mum. Walking away a few minutes later, smiling and feeling delighted with the encounter, I reflected on the power of a small child to draw us into relationship. I do not generally stop and talk to people I don’t know in carparks but how could I resist that little, laughing, beautiful girl? And it feels good, to connect, to engage. It certainly brightened my day.
I know it already feels now like Christmas was months ago. We have moved on into the month of January, wary of what tail-slaps of winter weather these coming weeks could hit us with. I was happy enough to put the decorations back in the attic and reel the eating habits back in, but how do we take the core message with us? That message really is simply one of God in relationship. How infinitely wise of God to approach us as a child; small, vulnerable, beautiful. Like that beautiful little girl in the carpark showed me, a child has an ability to invite us into a relationship. And it is in and through our relationships that we will continue to encounter the presence of God.
I recently read an extract of a book by Joe Hammond – A short history of falling: Everything I Observed About Love Whilst Dying. The author writes about his experience of living and gradually dying with Motor Neurone Disease. He talks about getting to a point where he is utterly immobile. He can no longer join his wife and two little sons in the rough and tumble of everyday life. And so he sits and observes what he calls ‘the shape of love’. He sees love being given form in the interactions between his wife and children. There is a touch, a smile, a synchronicity of movement, shared laughter which transform the idea of love into something which can be touched, felt, observed and delighted in.
I don’t know if faith was something important in Joe Hammond’s life but from what I read, he seems to be expressing the Incarnation very well, noticing, naming and celebrating love made real, given form and flesh in relationship. Christmas may feel like history but we are called anew into relationship every single day. Moreover, we are invited to be aware of the presence of God in those relationships. God as the energy of connection, of presence, of self-gift.
Now I’m under no illusions, relationships aren’t always the easiest place to find the presence of God. Our four were so excited to get home for Christmas. We were all delighted to be together again. And in those days over Christmas there was so much laughter in our house, a really strong, tangible sense of love and the importance of family. The glow lasted barely a week. Then the narkiness, the sharp comments, the inevitable disputes about who was doing the dishes kicked back in. Normal service had been resumed!
That’s the reality of our everyday lives. Every relationship brings its challenges and has its moments. My desire – and maybe yours too – is to notice the moments when love goodness and generosity take form and flesh in the people around me.
We were back in that shop again yesterday, unloading one of those wheely baskets at the check-out when the man behind us said, “come here outa that” and lifted the basket up level with the conveyor belt, so that we could unload it more easily. We are surrounded by simple, acts of kindness where the goodness of humanity shines through. Incarnation is not packed away with the Christmas decorations. It surrounds us in the ordinary every-day.