This entry was first published as a Gallup Independent "Spiritual Perspectives" column on November 23. Reprinted here with permission.
My daughter had just turned eight when she decided after dark one night, for the first and only time, to run away from home. She was furious about something I no longer remember. Dressed in pink pajamas, she put on her jacket and boots, grabbed her school backpack, and headed out the door. There was a dusting of snow on the footbridge that crossed the small creek beside our cabin in the mountains, and I watched through the window as she brushed off a space, sat on the bridge, and dangled her feet over the water. My heart filled near to bursting with tenderness as I watched her grapple with whatever demon it was that sent her running from me. Now I only remember the compassion and the love, though at the time, I may have been angry, too. I'm aware of the decision to let her go so she could wrestle with her own feelings, but I never lost sight of her; I was ready to leap out the door the minute any danger appeared.
It wasn't long before she came back in. I don't recall what happened when she did—whether she was ready to be enfolded in my arms, whether we talked about what had offended her so deeply, though we must have. What I do know to be true is that it was her humanness, her vulnerability, even her deep distress, that evoked love and compassion in me.
Many of us were taught by parents, by churches, or by society that in order to be loved, we had to be practically perfect in every way—that it was our abilities, our strengths, our physical attractiveness, and our compliance with the rules that made us acceptable, made us loveable. But when I think of my experiences as a parent, a teacher, and a counselor, I know it is the humanness and the weaknesses in others that evoke my deepest caring for them. I think of it as the "Aww Factor." When I watch videos of baby animals or baby humans, when I look at them bumbling and stumbling about because there's so much they haven't learned yet, I feel immense tenderness toward them and I actually say to myself, "Aww."
I think it's like this with the Holy One, too—that it's our imperfections, our inability to get it "right," our failures, our foolishness—that arouses compassion in God. I think Diyin God is pleased when we do the right thing, when we fulfill our greater purpose in life. But it's when we stumble and fall that the Holy One comes to us, spreads wings like a mother hen and draws us in to comfort us, to help us get back on our feet. And I imagine God often saying, when we endure some self-created kerfuffle, "Aww."
In a week's time, Christians will begin to observe Advent, the waiting time that leads to the celebration of God becoming human. This idea of God dwelling with us in a body is not unique to Christianity. I think that is precisely because we humans have an innate sense of the Infinite One loving our humanness. In many traditions, the Holy Ones come to us as earthly beings—in ancient Egypt, in the Yeibichai, at Shalako.
In an interview on the podcast The Liturgist, Franciscan Father and author Richard Rohr, says, "God loves us by becoming us." This idea of the Holy One coming to us, becoming one of us, is the ultimate in tender love. It is the vital message that we do not have to be perfect or even come close to it to be loved by God, by other humans, by the animals in our lives. It is our humanness, our flaws, and our messiness that make us loveable. And it is our humanness—our brokenness and the empathy that results from our weakness, not primarily our strengths, our money, or our great skills—that we have to offer our fellow beings and our ailing Earth. Let us lavishly give to the world our untidy, beautifully flawed selves this season.