Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Universal Baby or: Baby in our Midst

There are two theological concepts that I have been thinking about lately: one from my own faith tradition and one from another, both very related to the experience of motherhood.

Buddhists have an idea they call "the universal mother." Here's the gist of it: since Buddhists believe in reincarnation, when you look at any human being, however obnoxious, you must remember that this individual was once, in some previous life, someone's mother. No, it doesn't end there. In reality, this person, in some previous life, was your mother. And to Buddhist monks, who were probably the ones responsible for coming up with this idea, their own mother was quite probably the closest person to them in the world, seeing as how they didn't have families of their own (and most Buddhist countries have a much stronger respect for parents than some might argue we have here in the West).

I have always thought that this principle was somewhat analogous to the idea of Jesus in our midst. The idea here is that Jesus is always around us, always appearing in unexpected places. It's along the lines of "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me." We are always waiting for Jesus to reappear, looking around us to try to discover his presence. And some theologians would even argue that every person actually carries the presence of Jesus. So just when you want to blow off the beggar, or cut someone off in traffic, you have to remember, "That could be Jesus!"

So here's my contribution to these two ideas, born out of my experience of motherhood. I have found that most of the time, I am much more generous with my own children than I am with the rest of the world. Because I know them so intimately, I tend to respond patiently and gently even when their offense is obnoxious. I sometimes laugh when one of them is giving me a particularly tough time, because I just find it charming. And I almost always grow alarmed and even mad when someone else disciplines them too harshly, misunderstands them, or insults them (don't cross me and my babies!). They're my own, and I am often surprised with the grace that I am given to interact with them (although God-- and Ben-- knows that there are days that my patience runs dry). But all in all, I tend to interact with them on the basis of love and not mistrust or anger.

This is my hope: The next time that I am growing peeved with someone in the world-- which will probably be later today-- I will take a deep breath and realize that in some previous life, this person was my child. Or I will take a deep breath and realize that this person is my own child in my midst. I will imagine the sassy store clerk, the reckless driver speeding through the stop sign, or the difficult family member as a helpless little baby, or a nervous little toddler, needing my grace and attention.

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