This is what Love Does

It was a child’s comment to her father that started me off on a whole new way of thinking about Christmas. I was studying in the United States at the time, paying my way by ‘doing supply’ at a local parish in San Francisco. They were standing together in front of the crib. Her father heard her musing to herself, “I wonder if God enjoys being a baby?” Especially around this time of Advent, the child’s reflection often returns to me and fills my mind. These are the moments when I find the realisation of what Incarnation means simply overwhelming. The veil of the routine seasonal repetitions is briefly parted and the heart is caught off guard.

Another such moments happened last month. A Sunday paper offered a free pre-Christmas DVD of an old film. In 1987 Wim Wenders won best director at Cannes for ‘Wings of Desire’. Wim shows post-war Berlin full of ponytailed angels who listen to and comfort the broken hearts and minds of mortals. On the verge of falling in love with a beautiful trapeze artist, Marian, one of them, Damiel becomes fascinated (against holy orders) with the possibility of becoming human. Told from the angels point of view, the film is shot in black and white, blossoming into colour only when the angels perceive the realities of humankind.

It is wonderfully touching to be privy to Damiel‘s musings about what it must be like to become really real, to experience surprise, to feel the cold, to hold an apple, to be touched, to take the one he is falling in love with in his arms. As he observes our human ways his desire grows stronger. One day he finally crosses over and becomes flesh. Like a baby, or a just dropped calf, he struggles to keep his physical balance. It is a moment of pure discovery. He runs. He skips. Grinning broadly, he breathes deeply and feels his mouth; he rubs his hands together, making little sounds like ‘Oh!’ and ‘Ah!’! Accidentally he banged his head. Fascinated he stares at the blood on his fingers and tastes it with delight. ‘Is this what red is?’ he asked a passer-by.

Like a child opening his presence on Christmas morning, Damiel reels and rocks under the delighted experience of each of his senses. He is ecstatic in his newly found humanity. His friendship with Marian grows stronger. By now the film is all in colour. The infectious exuberance of the angel-made-human, whether the sucking on an ice cream, splashing in a puddle or staring at the colour purple, is fired with the enthusiasm of a child’s first wonder. You sense the simplicity and the innocence and his delight at being alive, in his appetite for new experiences, especially the experience of loving someone. ‘It is the love between us that has made me human’, Damiel reflects. ‘That night I learned to be astonished. I now know what no other angel knows.’

The child in California wondered whether God enjoyed becoming a baby. Maybe the love story of Damiel is an echo of the love story of God. Maybe God, too, in the beginning, and in the loneliness of infinity, yearned for playmates. ‘God is pure joy,’ wrote St Thomas Aquinas, ‘And pure joy demands companions.

Could it be that God created the world in the first place because of a burning desire to be exactly like one of us and to experience everything that human beings experience. Just as a committed love between a woman and a man creates the new life of a baby, so too, the divine essence of extravagant and unconditional longing for human love gives birth to the world and to everything and everyone in it.

Imagination is the key to unlocking the undreamed-of beauty that lies beneath the question of that wondering child. It was from the untamed wildness in her heart that her quiet reflection came. She was able to form it before we told her wrong answers, before we boxed shut her creative soul and locked up her wild wonder. Her musings came straight from the divine imagination, still fresh as a daisy in her childhood essence. She senses the impatience of God with divine invisibility, the need of God to be seen and heard . . .

‘I wonder if God enjoys being a baby?’, our small mystic reflected beneath the twinkling star and floating angels. As her heart was still and silent before the mystery, did she begin to sense that she herself was that baby, that she to shone with the same light, that her own young body and heart were home to her delighted God, and that the winters of her life would always reveal an inevitable spring? And what is this miracle true of everyone? Were we all, unknowingly, as full as God’s beauty as the baby was? And if we really believe that all of this is true, how do we keep hurting each other and destroying peace, like we do? How could anything ever be the same again?

Dear reader, maybe this is the Christmas when we allow ourselves, like God and like the young girl in our story, to be astonished at what we have taken to granted for too long: to be deeply transformed by our new version of the dark beauty and bright wonder of the divine humanity we are all great with.

(Already Within page 137 -140)