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From Prayers for Living

- Christmas Prayers

Finding God

in the eyes of a child

Written By Mary C. Earle

in the eyes of a childRecently as I stood in the check-out line at my local grocery store, a little girl of about two years old caught my eye. She was sitting in the shopping cart, just getting ready to fuss. As the unmistakable beginnings of a whine began to grow, and as her mother stiffened in response, the little girl looked at me. She stopped whining and just looked.

I was caught by the gaze of a child.

She did not smile. She simply stopped and looked, studying my face very soberly. I smiled at her. She did not return the smile nor did she frown. She simply looked, with eyes wide open and attention focused. In that moment, I had a little glimpse of the heart of God in Christ, a moment of the inbreaking of grace, a startling reminder of the mystery of life, the mystery of the Incarnation, there in the checkout line, next to the copies of Good Housekeeping and the National Enquirer. The Incarnation calls us, urges us to seek the face of God, to know with heart and mind and soul that God's face is a human face.

That little girl held my gaze far longer than most adults would have done. She took me in with her wonder and curiosity. A lovely stillness sat in that moment, as if only she and I were in the line, as if the gazing had allowed us to really see on another. The beholding each other, face to face, revealed the inherent sacredness of the moment and of each of us. And from that 'inner CD player'that all of us have, I heard this line from a Christmas hymn:

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

The mystery of the Incarnation cannot be explained. As much as we might want for this mystery to be logical or for the mystery to submit to analysis, neither will do. Love is at the heart of it. Not sappy sentimental love. Not even jingle-bell love. This mystery is known in moments when we glimpse each other as we really are. I knew a bit of the mystery while I was held by the steady gaze of that little girl, her undivided attention somehow both revealing the sacredness of her own person and rending the veil of grocery store reality. No one made the moment happen. It could not be forced. Yet for a moment, there was a pause, an opening, a lifting of the veil, a mutual indwelling of earth and heaven.

When Jesus was born we began to know something of the face of God. The birth was known to Mary and Joseph, and then to some shepherds in the nearby regions. Only much later was the birth perceived to be something extraordinary. In the moment, as with any birth, there was a woman in labor and a father fretting as a baby made the dangerous journey from the womb into the world. The mystery of the Incarnation is both out in the open, and hidden away. Hidden as was this birth in Bethlehem. Hidden as the glance of a child in the middle of the grocery store.

Welsh poet Iwan Llwyd perceives that

to the world of the supermarkets
there came to us also, in the tumult of the night,
a chance to touch the stars.
(in A Welsh Pilgrim's Manual, p. 106)

Underneath all of the busyness, the rushing, the effervescence of the holidays, there is the mystery of infinite love, waiting to take flesh yet again, to surprise us, to remind us of the hope and the promise that comes in the stable in Bethlehem, in the stable of our own hearts, in the stillness of the winter night. The mystery awaits us at all times and in all places, some filled with joy, some filled with sorrow, some as ordinary as the line in the grocery store. Be on the lookout. This God who clothes divinity with human flesh seeks to behold the divine image in each of us, and in the whole human community.

Copyright ©2004 Mary Earle