Saturday, December 12, 2015

strange the plain things are

Incarnation is finitude, limitation. 

Especially for God. 

I think of Philippians 2—"though [Christ] was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself"—or of John 1—"the Word became flesh and dwelt among us"—with both "dwell" and "among us" speaking of not only temporal and physical limitation, but humility and empathy.

That kind of limitation was what I was thinking about when I first started thinking about parenthood and incarnation. In the weeks since Eva was born, I have felt limited, even reduced. She doesn't need (for the most part) my intellect or my accomplishments or my sense of humor. She doesn't need for me to brush my hair. She needs milk, and warmth, and someone to change her diaper. Like God, I thought, I have humbled myself and accepted these limitations. I felt validated, even while reading Fisher's article.

Now it is true that the fact of the Incarnation does lend sanctity and dignity to these things we do in our bodies. Giving milk to my baby is not irrelevant; it is not beneath me or detached from the rest of God's design for me. His plans for me are plans for this body, and the fact that it is a female body, now a mother's body, is an intentional detail in that plan. 

God did not merely work out a cosmic transaction for our salvation. He came and inhabited a body, joining with Adam and all of us in all of the weakness and fragility of human life, joining with us in life and death.

So, yes, the Incarnation does imbue embodied activity with a certain type of sanctity.

But Jesus came as the baby.

What Eva needs from me feels limiting to me, but the truth is that I can leave her on the bed and go downstairs and wash the dishes if I really want to. I can even leave her alone in the house and take out the trash. I can put her in the carseat and drag her along with me to get things done. Or I could ignore her altogether.

Eva can't do any of those things. She is truly helpless. She fully relies on us for everything. She cries for milk and smiles when she knows it is coming. An hour later, she does it again. She is needy, and she doesn't resent that neediness.

It was a mistake to focus on how much my powers were limited as I cared for Eva. Things like the thrush or a really bad night remind me that I am just as helpless when it comes to the basic things as I am when functioning at [what I perceive is] my full capacity. 

To see myself as the baby helps me to focus on God's care and provision instead of on my hardship or humiliation. This is where my mind needs to be.

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